22 minutes, 25 votes: It's final
By DIANE RADO
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000
TALLAHASSEE -- The bitter five-week battle over the presidency in Florida ended with a 22-minute ceremony Monday as Republican electors faithfully cast their 25 votes for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Electors stood and cheered, hugged and exchanged high-fives after the vote. But the ceremony, usually an obscure part of American democracy, turned out to be largely predictable after the melodrama that followed the Nov. 7 election.
The too-close-to-call race resulted in legal fights, a special legislative session, demonstrations and ultimately a U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to Vice President Al Gore's concession, making Bush president-elect and the 2000 presidential election one for the history books.
"I don't know that I've ever had a greater day in public life," said former state House Speaker John Thrasher, one of the 25 electors who gathered in the Florida Senate chambers Monday to cast their vote for Bush.
The electors met with Bush's younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, briefly Monday morning, then had brunch at the exclusive Governor's Club in Tallahassee, according to Thrasher.
At 12:01 p.m., they convened in the Senate chambers, with some 150 people watching from the Senate floor as well as from public galleries above.
Jeb Bush presided, praising Gore's concession speech last week as well as the speech by his brother that followed. Both speeches urged Americans to unite after the presidential battle.
"In spite of a very hard-fought election, in spite of an incredibly close election, when it all gets down to it, we're all Americans," Jeb Bush said. "We all believe and love our country." The election, he said, was one of the most exciting he has been involved in.
After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the electors filled out a ballot for Bush and his vice president-elect, Dick Cheney. Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts announced the results: 25 votes for George W. Bush, 25 votes for Dick Cheney. The electors and the crowd burst into applause.
Then each elector signed six copies of the official certificates that will be sent to Congress, naming Bush as winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. The ceremony was finished by 12:23 p.m.
The unanimous vote Monday came after efforts nationwide to persuade electors to switch sides because Gore won the national popular vote, though he lost in the electoral vote tally.
That hasn't happened since 1889, when Benjamin Harrison became president despite losing the popular vote.
Florida electors were deluged with letters and phone calls, and some of their names appeared on a Web site by Citizens for True Democracy, a group that advocates direct popular elections to replace the Electoral College.
Republican elector Robert L. Woody said he got between 30 and 50 letters and calls, but he never entertained switching his vote. "I honestly feel we have chosen the best person to lead the country," Woody said after the ceremony.
Lenny Fraraccio, an eighth-grade history teacher from Texas visiting his in-laws in Lake City, added some novelty to the event Monday. He came dressed as Ben Franklin, complete with spectacles, a three-cornered hat and Colonial garb. He wanted to videotape the electors' meeting for his class.
With the ceremony over, talk turned to the new Bush administration in Washington, which could include some Florida officials such as Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, who has been mentioned as a candidate for education secretary.
Jeb Bush said he has spoken to Brogan about the job, telling him he is certainly the most qualified for it. However, Bush said he also told Brogan he is an "indispensable part of my team."
"I have mixed feelings about it," Bush said about the prospect of Brogan's accepting a Washington job.
Former House Speaker Thrasher, whose name is also being mentioned for a Washington job of some sort, was coy when asked whether he had been approached by George W. Bush's staff. He did say that he may help the Bush transition team in Washington.
Other Floridians who could go to Washington include Robin Higgins, executive director of Florida's Veterans Affairs Department, and David Struhs, head of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection.
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