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Lawmakers close their little piece of election

CAPITOL CROWD DISPERSES: Nervous lawmakers and angry demonstrators leave, bringing quiet and a decrease in partisan rancor.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- An extraordinary special session of the Legislature closed quickly and quietly on Thursday, like the anti-climactic ending to a movie or book.

The state Senate convened for 14 minutes and never took up a controversial -- and ultimately unnecessary -- resolution to name 25 Republican presidential electors who would put Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the White House.

The courtyard outside the Capitol emptied, looking barren without the big crowds of demonstrators and national media that had gathered over the past five weeks.

The legal case that decided the presidency was dismissed in a two-page order by the Florida Supreme Court.

The case started a short-lived hand recount of votes last weekend. But the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount and later ruled it flawed, effectively ending Vice President Al Gore's hopes for the presidency and making it impossible for the Florida Supreme Court to order another recount. Gore conceded Wednesday night, and Bush became president-elect.

The concession convinced state senators that they didn't need to act, and they went home for the holidays rather than vote on the resolution naming Republican electors.

"This is a time for healing rifts, and continuing this special session would be counterproductive," McKay said shortly before convening senators for a brief period Thursday.

The Republican-led Legislature convened the historic special session last Friday, fearful that all the legal challenges in the close presidential election had put Florida's 25 electors, already pledged to Bush, in jeopardy. Democrats decried the special session as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Despite the deep divisions, the state House, with a 77-43 Republican majority, approved the resolution Tuesday. The state Senate, which needed to pass the measure for it to be final, held off, waiting to see whether Gore would concede and court decisions would make their action unnecessary.

"I said time and time again that we would be cautious in both our words and our actions," Senate President John McKay told senators.

It is now time to return to the issues "that are most important to the people we serve," McKay said.

House leaders quickly moved Thursday to defend their own action.

"Although it is with great pleasure and relief that I recognize our efforts were rendered moot, I am confident that the Florida House acted in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, and we may all feel pride from our participation in upholding the laws of the nation," House Speaker Tom Feeney said in a written statement.

In an interview, Feeney said he probably wouldn't have taken a vote in the House if he was in the Senate's position -- convening after Gore's concession speech.

However, "I don't think we should have waited," said Feeney. "I might even argue we should have acted earlier. We needed to be sure the state would be represented in the Electoral College." The resolution calling for the special session was framed and hanging on the wall in Feeney's office Thursday.

Feeney's comments during Gore's concession speech Wednesday night -- including calling Gore a "loser" -- created friction in the Capitol on a day when legislative leaders were trying to create unity after the bitter presidential fight. Democrats and Republicans alike were critical of the remarks, for which Feeney apologized.

The state Senate approved a resolution decrying the personal attacks that arose during five weeks of fighting over the presidency. Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris was particularly targeted by critics who considered her a political hack for George W. Bush.

"The Florida Senate finds these attacks to be harmful, offensive, divisive, unnecessary and unwarranted," the resolution stated.

After five weeks of controversy, McKay was looking on the positive side Thursday.

"Our system of government was created over 200 years ago -- and it works," McKay said. "It has withstood the test of time, and it's been a pretty darn neat civics lesson."

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