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latimes.com: Florida lawmakers elusive on session

latimes.com TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Los Angeles Times) -- Republican statehouse leaders Tom Feeney and John McKay emerged from the shadows for the first time in days Tuesday but neither made it any clearer when--or if--they would call a special session of the Florida Legislature.

House Speaker Feeney, who has been pushing for lawmakers to get involved and cement the electoral delegates already certified for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, initially sounded as if he had backed down from his "I got my helmet on, I'm ready to go" approach.

"My preference now for the first time would be to chill out for a day or two," he told reporters after addressing a gathering of GOP lawmakers. "The clouds are parting. I can see a ray of sunshine," he added, referring to the legal setbacks that Vice President Al Gore suffered Monday.

But a few sound bites later, Feeney changed tack, returning to his original position: "If it was up to me, I would have had the electors appointed two weeks ago. I still think we need them in place by Tuesday."

McKay, president of the state Senate, also was elusive, continuing to exude caution but oscillating between sounding open-minded and sounding firm. He telephoned the Democrat's lead legal advisor, Yale University constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman, on Tuesday to discuss the options.

But, he said, that didn't really change his mind about the need for a special session.

"My gut is that all the lawsuits will not be brought to a conclusion by" Tuesday, he said. "We don't want to get left out."

Republicans have argued that the ongoing legal wrangling in Florida raises the risk that the state's 25 electoral votes could be cast aside by the electoral college when it meets Dec. 18. States are supposed to have finalized results in by Tuesday and it's not clear which date is the operative deadline for the Legislature to take action, both Feeney and McKay said.

Republicans in the state House also have weighed in on the vote recount case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court and is now back in the hands of Florida Supreme Court justices. The Republicans have filed their own friend-of-the court brief, arguing the Legislature has authority to get involved in selecting the state's presidential electors. House Democrats, who are outnumbered 77-43, have filed their own brief, laying down their reasons why the Legislature should keep out.

Feeney and McKay have the power to call a special session of the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature by their joint consent. Lawmakers in Florida usually meet only two months of the year, early March to early May, and the 160 politicians would have to be summoned to Tallahassee to pass any election-related measure.

But many lawmakers are in Tallahassee this week for training, and on Tuesday, busloads of outraged voters marched into the Capitol looking for politicians to confront. The state Democratic Party, along with labor groups and community activists, is helping bus thousands of people to Tallahassee to rally behind Gore and protest the Legislature, should it choose to intervene.

A posse of Miami voters was especially intense. Wearing "citizen lobbyist" badges hanging from their necks and orange ribbons pinned to their sleeves, the group of 25--lawyers, teachers, bandanna-wearing students and seniors with canes--moved through the hallways Tuesday as one as the group stalked its prey.

Finally, the posse found it: a Republican state senator, John Laurent, on the way back to his office from getting a cup of coffee.

"There's one!" the call went out.

The posse swarmed, quickly tightening into a knot of anger around Laurent and an aide.

"Will you tell us why you are going to usurp the will of the people, sir?" one citizen lobbyist asked.

"Why aren't you hand-counting the whole state, senator?" another shouted.

Laurent didn't lose his cool.

"You raise a lot of good issues," he said. "Nobody wants to go into this session. It's politically radioactive. But, if we need to protect our votes, we . . ."

Paulette Sims Wilberly cut him off, eyes blazing. "Thirty-six years ago, I was not allowed to even step into this building and talk to you," said Wilberly, who is an African American Miami-Dade County official. "I want my votes counted. Don't you?"

Laurent smiled. A few questions later, he was escorted away by his aide.


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Wednesday, December 6, 2000

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