Magazine article Newsweek

Wild Times under the Dome: Hard-Liners in the GOP-Dominated Legislature Are Itching to Join the Election War. Their Battle Plan

Magazine article Newsweek

Wild Times under the Dome: Hard-Liners in the GOP-Dominated Legislature Are Itching to Join the Election War. Their Battle Plan

Article excerpt

No one watching TV should be fooled by the genteel old capitol in Tallahassee, with its stately marble steps and candy-striped awnings. The real business these days gets done in the newer concrete tower next door, where partisan politics is played as hard as anywhere in the country. The GOP House speaker, Tom Feeney, introduced a choose life license plate for those who weren't satisfied with the usual sunshine state, and he once proposed that Florida secede from the union if the national debt topped $6 trillion. His Republican colleague Senate Majority Leader John McKay is best known for having resigned from a key committee after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist was exposed. "If every legislator in the same circumstance stepped aside," wrote Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times, "we'd have trouble finding people to run the place."

These are the lawmakers who still could decide the presidential election. Last week Florida's House and Senate leaders said they would join the Bush campaign's suit in the U.S. Supreme Court and formed a committee to find a way around the contested vote altogether. Federal law gives the legislature the right to name the state's electors itself if the voters can't reach a decision. Feeney and McKay said they may call for a special session as early as this week to make sure the courts can't overturn Bush as the winner. While overwhelmed Democrats were scurrying to block the maneuver, 63 new House members--elected thanks to term limits--were arriving in town for the first time. "These people just got here, and they don't even know where the bathroom is," said Lois Frankel, the House minority leader. "And now they're being asked to choose who should be the next president of the United States."

If Bush wins the court battles, that won't be necessary. But if the process threatens to drag on past Dec. 12, when electors must be selected with or without the high court, then the nation's attention will turn to the Florida Legislature. …

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