Florida Legislature Makes Its Move

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TIM SLOAN/AFP

Tom Feeney addresses the Republican caucus in the Florida State Capitol

The Florida Supreme Court just got its warning shot.

In carefully measured words and solemn tones, the two Republican leaders of the Florida legislature held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce that they were very willing to take Florida's election into their own hands with a special session starting Friday and ending on December 13, with an if-necessary appointment of Bush electors according to the "least tainted" election result — the one not certified by Katherine Harris on Nov. 17 but apparently restored to viability by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.

"With considerable reluctance on my part... in the event there is not finality on the 12th, I think we will have to act," said Senate President John McKay. "We're protecting Florida's 25 electoral votes and its 6 million voters." Added House Speaker Tom Feeney, "I believe deeply that we have a duty to protect Florida's participation in the electoral college."

A lot of upset Democrats

The soft-spoken McKay explained that the session was merely a "safety net," and that if Al Gore's slog through the courts wasn't done by Dec. 12, well, then they'd have to do what Republicans swear is their sacred constitutional duty, "regardless whether it's Gore, Bush or Nader."

But Florida's lead Democrat, Rep. Lois Frankel, wasn't having any of that.

"This is a very sad day for the state of Florida and for the Florida legislature," she began. "We already have a certified election, and... there is no possibility we will be without electors." And then the zinger: "The only thing missing from the proclamation today was the postmark from Austin, Texas."

Democrats contend that Harris' earlier certification on Nov. 26 already resulted in a slate of Bush electors named for Florida, and the only possible motivation Republicans could have is to keep Gore out if he looks like he could win in the courts. McKay, of course, had been asked about that, and he could only mumble that he had done his homework and asked his constitutional experts, and they had assured him that it was better to be safe than sorry.

Two slates of electors?

And here we have the necessary ingredients of a major constitutional nightmare. If the legislature names Bush on Dec. 13 and the courts name Gore before Dec. 18, the U.S. Congress gets two competing slates. Bush's get named by the House, Gore's get named by, well, Gore (the Senate is split and he'd still be the tie-breaking veep).

The Republicans haven't done anything yet, except maybe give the Florida Supreme Court one more thing to think about (the timing should not be ignored) as it rules on Gore's various lifesavers over the next few days. They've also incurred the wrath of the Gore camp, which hints that one man will be the recipient of as much political damage as they can possibly bring about: Jeb Bush.