Harris Slams Civil Rights Panel's Report

Article excerpt

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris today will accuse the U.S. Civil Rights Commission of conducting a bogus investigation into the presidential election because its chairman, Mary Frances Barry, was rooting for Al Gore, The Washington Times has learned.

Mrs. Harris has drafted a stinging indictment of the commission's majority ruling, which accused her and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of presiding over an election in which blacks were systematically disenfranchised. The majority's report, which was leaked earlier this month to liberal newspapers, was based on a statistical analysis conducted by a former consultant to Mr. Gore, The Times revealed last week.

"Instead of helping to create a blueprint for an election system that no American ever again doubts whether his or her vote counts, the majority have crafted a battle plan for politicians interested in wielding the sword of racial division," Mrs. Harris said in the executive summary of her rebuttal, which will be released today after Senate hearings on the election.

She blamed the commission's partisanship on the fact that the election's loser was Mr. Gore, "the candidate the chairperson of the commission supported." Miss Berry did not return phone calls to The Washington Times. But Nathea Lee, who described herself as a "functionary" for Miss Berry, complained that the chairman had not yet seen the Harris rebuttal.

"It's a tad odd that you get it before she does," Miss Lee told a reporter. But when offered a copy of the rebuttal last night, Miss Lee said Miss Berry would still not comment.

Ironically, it was Miss Berry who was accused of leaking the majority opinion to liberal newspapers earlier this month, before it had been distributed to the two Republican appointees of the eight-member commission.

The leaks were orchestrated before the ruling was shown to Mrs. Harris or Mr. Bush, even though they had been promised they could write rebuttals that would be included in the document.

"The leaking of the degrading and defamatory bromides . . . constituted an obviously malicious attempt to poison public opinion before any person could conduct an impartial, sober evaluation of the majority's findings," Mrs. Harris wrote. "Such activity betrays a political bias that implodes the presumption of rectitude that has historically accompanied the commission's mandate."

Abigail Thernstrom, one of the Republican appointees on the commission, said Mrs. Harris' conclusions were "absolutely correct."

"I believe that if we had seen the report in a timely manner, and if the commission staff had been willing to work with us in revising the report on the basis of feedback, the report would have been improved," Mrs. Thernstrom said. "The commission has undermined its credibility and once you lose your credibility, it's hard to recover."

Mrs. Thernstrom and the other GOP appointee, Russell Redenbaugh, will release their dissenting opinion today, before Mrs. Thernstrom and Miss Berry testify before the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by Sen. …