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Florida 2000
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Text: Fla. Legislature Announces Special Session
Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Following is the transcript of Florida State Senate President John McKay and Florida Speaker of the House announcing their call for a special session of the Florida state legislature to pick its slate of electors on Friday.

JOHN MCKAY: Good afternoon.

Earlier this afternoon, Speaker Feeney and I signed a proclamation calling for a special session to ensure that Florida's voters are not disenfranchised from the 2000 presidential election.

The action taken today is done so with considerable reluctance on my part, due to the potential far-reaching effects of any actions.

What we will do may impact the course of our country, and that is why I've approached the legislature's role in this matter in a cautious and thoughtful manner.

My primary objective is simple: to ensure that the voters of Florida are not disenfranchised.

I've been candid about who I supported for the presidency. As a citizen of this state, I voted for George W. Bush. But as Senate president, I took an oath to represent all the people and not one single person or group.

I embark on a special session, not to advocate either position of the two protagonists, but as a constitutional officer with a responsibility to represent the best interests of all Floridians.

On December 12, we may find ourselves in a position that calls for our involvement should there be no finality to the contests that are still pending. And it is possible that there may be more filed before this day is out. It would be irresponsible of us if we failed to put a safety net in place under the current court conditions.

Once again, if the election disputes are resolved by December 12, there may be a possibility that the legislature will not have to act. We're convening on December 8, so that we will be in a position to act if necessary. We will not meet on either the Jewish or the Christian sabbath. The current slate of electors that is in front of us, though, may be tainted because of the Supreme Court actions and other local county voting procedures.

Additionally, a reasonable person could conclude that the recent Supreme Court actions may cause Congress not to accept our electors that have already been sent to Washington.

Our sole responsibility will be to put forth a slate of electors that is untainted and ensures that Florida's 25 electoral votes count in this election, regardless for whom they voted.

I believe that the electors should be based upon the vote totals that were available on November 14, and equally important, on the laws that were in place as of the date of the election on November 7. I believe that these votes are the least tainted of all.

We must be prudent and timely in our actions and our behavior. We are not trying to preempt, prejudge, or predict the election outcome. We are protecting Florida's 25 electoral votes and over 6 million voters.

I'll take questions in a few minutes, but first let me let you hear from the speaker of the House.

Tom?

TOM FEENEY: Thank you. I believe I'll be a lot shorter than the president.

I'll tell you that I find this a very solemn and important occasion. And the reason that I have signed the proclamation today, which President McKay sent to me about 10 or 15 minutes ago, is that I believe deeply, having studied Article II, Section 1 and having studied Title 3 and having requested some of the best advice from scholars on the Constitution and our obligations, that we have a duty to protect Florida's participation in the Electoral College.

And I have a hope, I believe most of my colleagues in the House, that the electoral issues may be resolved without the necessary of the legislature taking final action. But there appears to be a great risk that our electors are now not within the safe harbor that the United States Supreme Court described the other day in referring to Title 3 of the United States Code.

I want to tell you that I'm here and joined with--joining with me is a number of members of the House, most especially speaker pro tem Sandy Merman (ph). I know the Senate leader, Representative King, is here. I want to--Senator King. We still think of him as a representative down in the House, Senator and President McKay.

But I want to tell you that I have a deep and abiding respect for President McKay and his leadership team.

And people have suggested that we're thinking differently or there may be some division. I can assure you that I have enormous respect for the president, and I think the prudence that he exercised in making sure that all of his team had a complete comprehension of the options available to us and the obligations that we may have to undertake, I think was done so in a marvelously responsible manner.

So, with that, you know...

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, can you put any suspicions or fears to rest that you or President McKay have had any contact with the Bush campaign and that they're giving you instructions on what to do in this whole matter?

FEENEY: I can't speak for the Senate president. I can tell you that I'm looking forward to meeting Secretary James Baker, but that I haven't had any conversations with Secretary Baker. Matter of fact, the first time, I think, that I was made aware that we may be signing our proclamation was earlier today. I haven't had any contact with any members of the Bush team probably since--in a good 24 hours.

FEENEY: So from my perspective, the actions that we took in the House today, was without any advice or guidance or counsel or discussion with either campaign, either with the Gore campaign or the Bush campaign.

QUESTION: What about the governor?

MCKAY: Well, just to answer this gentleman's question, I've met Secretary Baker about three weeks ago, but I haven't had any conversations with the Bush camp since that moment.

QUESTION: Have you met with the governor?

(CROSSTALK)

MCKAY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Timing is obviously of the essence, can you talk about when you meet and what procedures you would follow? What's your indication of when you have to?

MCKAY: Well, I can tell you what the Senate will do, I can't tell you what the House will do, since I'm not familiar with their process.

Well, I guess the Senate and the House will convene at 12:00 on Friday. In the Senate we will notice a committee meeting--normally in a special session we have a two-hour notice before a meeting can convene. In this case, because of the magnitude of the issue, that committee will meet--the Ethics and Elections Committee, which I will appoint tomorrow--will meet at 10 a.m. on Monday. It'll be notice for eight hours and then a special order subcommittee of the Rules Committee, which will also be appointed tomorrow, will meet thereafter so that we can have a calendar available, should we have to meet on Wednesday.

QUESTION: When would you be naming the electors?

FEENEY: Tomorrow. The electors? That would not occur until Wednesday, in the event that we convene. And as the speaker said and as I have said, that may not be necessary. The event that drops the checkered flag so this process convenes, I believe, is whether we have finality on the 12th. That still has yet to evolve.

QUESTION: What do you consider will be the outcome at the 12th?

FEENEY: I believe that means that all the court contests have been concluded. And if they're concluded, then we'll see what happens then.

QUESTION: Senator, you have said all of them concluded?

FEENEY: All of them concluded. Pretty straightforward, isn't it?

QUESTION: Does this proclamation require participation or involvement by the governor?

FEENEY: There may be a possibility, and the jury's still out as to whether he will have to sign a letter that accompanies it that is similar to the letter that he--similar or perhaps identical to the letter that he signed accompanying the earlier certification. But we don't have an answer to that at this point; other than that there's no involvement.

QUESTION: Senator, you said that you would name the electors on next Wednesday, that would be the 13th. I mean, you're not concerned about...

MCKAY: In a joint resolution, our position is...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKAY: Our position is that the electors need to be named in the resolution, but the resolution hasn't been authored at this point.

QUESTION: But the 13th, Wednesday is the 13th.

MCKAY: Wednesday is the 13th. That's correct.

QUESTION: So you're not concerned about December 12 as being a deadline in...

MCKAY: I think my perspective from talking to all our experts is the 12th is the event that triggers our ability to act. The 12th is not the date by which we have to act, that is, in fact, the 18th.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCKAY: I think that I've been pretty clear: In the event that there is finality on the 12th, I think we will have to act regardless of whether it's Gore, Bush or Nader. I am not representing the Republicans, I'm representing all the people of Florida in my constitutional capacity.

QUESTION: So you're saying there's a chance that you'll endorse electors who are for Gore?

MCKAY: I will uphold my constitutional responsibility.

QUESTION: Senator, moving as close as you can here, you've left open a slim possibility, albeit slim, that the judge in the Seminole County case could certify a new election result, thereby, as some Republicans have said, making it look like you're now reacting to a court decision that's bad for Governor Bush. Aren't you concerned about that appearance?

MCKAY: No, I have gone through my thought process, Steve, without regard to the evolution and the various courts, not only here in the state, but also in Washington. I've tried to study the issue.

I've tried to examine the issue. I've tried to ascertain when is the appropriate time, if at all, for the legislature to act. And that happened to coincide with now. Actually, it didn't come about until 9:30 last night.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... you said you were worried about the far-reaching...

MCKAY: I think somebody had a...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKAY: ... somebody had a question for Tom.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, yesterday you talked about the (OFF-MIKE) that you would not have to call a special session. Can you be very clear and direct about what happened between today and yesterday to cause you to sign the proclamation?

FEENEY: Well, I had one on my desk that had been signed by the Senate president.

QUESTION: You said that you were worried about the far-reaching effects. What sort of effects are you worried? What did you go through in your thought processes, what effect this could have long-term in the nation, our political process? Can you go through the debates...

MCKAY: Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... with yourselves and with each other?

FEENEY: Well, I am concerned that the potential exists where there is already what Hamilton referred to as tumult and disorder, that that may continue, and that now the legislature may be involved. I'm concerned that I've got some good friends in the Democratic Party, both in the House and elsewhere, that may be upset by the legislature's participation. I'm concerned that the wonderful institution of the Florida House and the legislature in general suffer a short-term black eye.

But I will tell you that, as I have said, that fundamentally I believe that when I took my oath to uphold the United States Constitution, I did so without qualification. I didn't say I would do my duty if it was fun or convenient or popular.

I believe deeply that the way Leader Frankel, on behalf of the Democrats, has conducted herself, Mike Fasano in our team, we have had very respectful discussions about our obligations, and I think that we can do that in committee, I think that we can do that on the House floor.

I believe, candidly, there's every opportunity that the institution of the Florida House can come out of this very difficult challenge as strong as it has ever been, and that would be my goal in the next few days.

So, yes, there are risks, but those risks pale in comparison to the oath that I took two weeks ago.

(CROSSTALK)

MCKAY: Let me just add. My concerns are identical to Tom's, except with regard to--I'd substitute House for Senate. I have also a little additional concern, and that is, since we are treading on ground that hasn't been walked upon before, at least not in a long darn time, that we proceed very cautiously because this could affect future elections. And I would not want that to have any negative effect on this nation.

So we're proceeding very cautiously to date, and we will continue to proceed cautiously.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FEENEY: Well, what I said yesterday was that I could see the clouds parting a little bit, and based on some dramatic and positive decisions by Judge Sauls locally, who, by the way, referred to the safe harbor of Title 3, Section 5, and especially the United States Supreme Court opinion, which I read very differently than some who have suggested it's a neutral opinion asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider the opinion that was tossed out when it was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I read the U.S. Supreme Court opinion as very clearly instructing the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in light of some things that the Florida Supreme Court wasn't fully asked to consider.

And the two notes that I've been singing over and over again are Article II, Section 1, and Title 3 of the United States Code.

Now having said that, I also said that I think, and I've been convinced for some time, that the prudent thing was to act, just in case, to protect the participation of Floridians in the Electoral College.

I would note that there will be--I don't think the president or I expect any formal vote to be taken until Monday at the earliest when we will have committee meetings in our respective bodies. Tuesday at the earliest in the House under the timetable we have. So that there may be intervening acts which eliminate the need for us to take final action.

But I believe the prudent thing to do is to start, to be prepared. And if we find a way to do our duty without bringing the session to a close with a final vote, then I would be the most pleased man in Florida.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, let me ask you both. You mentioned the Democrats and your concern about your relationship with them. And they certainly have raised concern, not just about both of you supporting George W. Bush, but about the fact that you are electors, about the fact that Mr. Feeney ran with Jeb Bush in his unsuccessful bid for governor. How do you convince the American people, whose votes are all at stake, that this not partisan but a constitutional concern?

MCKAY: I think what they need to do is watch us. And I think as they watch us they will find us--that both the speaker and I carry out our duties very responsibly. The proof's in the pudding. That's what we're going to see.

QUESTION: Mr. Feeney, could you also answer that question.

MCKAY: I just--I finish the process.

FEENEY: I echo the president's comments.

Thank you very much.


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