Why the Love Affair Between Katherine Harris and the Bush Administration Has Wilted

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Mr. Olshaker is a longtime freelance journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications including TomPaine.com and the New York Times. He is the author of Witnesses to the Unsolved.

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To many Democrats she is the devil incarnate, the person who cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. But to many Republicans she will always be remembered fondly. At President Bush's Florida inaugural ball in 2001 she was even compared with Rosa Parks. As the Christian Science Monitor writer Peter Grier reported:

…When Dick Cheney dropped by, a phalanx of trumpeters announced his arrival as if he were a conquering emperor. When George W. Bush came by, he got “Hail to the Chief.” But the night's real star got something much more. “ India had Mother Teresa,” boomed the announcer. “The South had Rosa Parks. And France had Joan of Arc.”

Dramatic pause.

“But Florida,” he bellowed, “has Katherine Harris.” Florida's secretary of state, the woman who certified Bush's victory, entered to wild applause.

But that was then. the Bush team’s enthusiastic support for Secretary of State Harris vanished after she won election to Congress. Despite the administration’s gratitude for the indispensable role she played in delivering Florida’s electoral votes in 2000, they have intervened repeatedly to prevent her from representing the GOP in US Senate races, revealing a desperate desire to hide the living symbol of how George W. Bush gained the White House.

When Rep. Harris was gearing up to run for the Senate in 2004, the prospect of Bush campaigning at her side so alarmed his administration that they hastily anointed Mel Martinez for the role, having him quit his job as housing secretary in order to rush to Florida and stop the Harris campaign before it could get off the ground. (Despite this dramatic evidence that the Bush 2004 campaign was scared to death of any mention or visual reminder of the 2000 election controversy, Sen. John Kerry, in typical fashion, failed to raise the issue.)

And this year, once again, Republican Party leaders are trying desperately to stop “the new Rosa Parks” from running for Senate. Washington Post writers Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza recently reported:

After failing to persuade Rep. Katherine Harris to stay out of the race, GOP leaders began a public search for an alternative candidate. State House Speaker Allan Bense was courted by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) before bowing out. [Sen. Elizabeth] Dole took a private plane to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade conservative commentator and former Florida representative Joe Scarborough to make the race.

Many Democrats and some independents revile Harris for the role she played, as Florida secretary of state, in favoring George W. Bush in the 2000 recount process. But she has enough hard-core conservative fans to scare away other Republican Senate hopefuls… 

Yet her “hard-core conservative fans,” as well as the progressives who revile her, might be surprised to see the policies she espouses on her Senate campaign’s official website ( www.electharris.org) . Rep. Harris presents herself as a “progressive conservative,” with the progressive clearly outweighing the conservative. In her speech announcing her candidacy, she emphasizes the need for strict environmental protection, women’s equality, and aid to the poor, recalling with pride how she sponsored and fought to pass the American Dream Downpayment Act to help more low-income Americans own homes. She also calls for the federal government to devote more funds to finding a cure for cancer. (Although Harris calls for increased spending, she also stresses that she is “anti-tax,” and labels her opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, as too liberal.)

Harris stakes out positions in her announcement speech that appear to be direct slaps at the Bush Administration that has tried to undercut her senatorial ambitions, as she cites “threats to our security” that include “inadequate responses to those whose lives were devastated by hurricanes,” “veterans forgotten for their sacrifice,” and “changes to Social Security.”

“When people are hurting, you find ways to stop the pain,” says Rep. Harris. “Like funding more community health centers to serve the medically needy and rural poor; and joining with the AARP to pass a bipartisan prescription drug benefit to lower the cost of drugs for seniors.” On these issues and others, Harris reveals herself as dramatically out of step with fellow Republican legislators who, just within the past week, approved billions of dollars of cuts in Medicaid, the food stamp program, pension protection, child support enforcement, foster care, and the Supplemental Security Income program that protects seniors and the disabled.

How many people—progressives as well as her hard-core conservative base—are aware of Harris’s somewhat surprising campaign positions? How many know her record as a two-term congresswoman? Five years after being likened to Rosa Parks (and called many other things), she is universally recognized yet barely known. She is still overwhelmingly identified with only one thing. In the public mind she is still stuck in late Fall 2000, perhaps destined to remain there forever.

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Bill Heuisler - 11/17/2005

Mr. Stokes,
I agree with your assessment.

Olshaker's unsubstantiated opinions are rendered even more feckless by his careless treatement of budget numbers. There are no cuts in medicare proposed by the Senate, House or the President. The proposed cuts are in spending growth.
That's cuts in growth, not programs.

As you said, not worthy of HNN.

If only Olshaker had read Jonathan Weisman's article in the Washington Post on Friday Nov. 4, 2005, (the 11th and 12th paragraphs) he might have gotten a few facts straight.
Here they are to save you time:

"Among the deepest cuts are those hitting Medicare and Medicaid. The House bill would cut the growth of Medicaid by $12 billion over five years and by nearly $48 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The Senate would trim spending on Medicaid and the related Children's Health Insurance Program by $4.3 billion through 2010, and $14 billion through 2015. The Senate measure mitigates cuts to health care programs for the poor by shifting the bulk of cost savings to Medicare, which would be cut by $5.7 billion over five years. That savings would balloon to $40.6 billion through 2015.

Even liberal advocacy groups say the Senate measure largely shields Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, imposing the burden instead on pharmaceutical companies, private insurers and more-affluent Americans who fraudulently qualify for nursing-home coverage by transferring assets to family members. But the Senate Medicare provisions have prompted a veto threat from the White House, which has strongly objected to the bill's tampering with President Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit."

Bill Heuisler

Jason Stokes - 11/16/2005

Even by the loose standards of HNN, I don't think this qualifies as historical analysis of a current event. Yes, the events of 2000 are of course history, but so recent that this piece is indistinguishable from any other contemporary political polemic. Indeed, Mr Olshaker doesn't even clearly state an argument, just make vague insinuations. He asks "how many people—progressives as well as her hard-core conservative base—are aware of Harris’s somewhat surprising campaign positions?" But a far more significant question is, how many people -- hard core conservatives or progressive -- would actually care, if they were to find out?

For conservatives, Harris is someone who has proven her loyalty, and thus can be relied on to carry out the Republican program whatever her public pronouncements. For progressives, Harris is someone who has proven her venality, and thus no longer worthy of trust or respect. If Mr. Olshaker thinks either of these perspectives is wrong, he ought to state it -- but not on this site, unless "history news" is to become indistinguishable from Town Hall or the American Prospect.

Femi Folami-Browne - 11/15/2005

What an insult to the legacy of one great woman who would not stand for discrimination and racism during civil rights and voter rights era to be compared with one who in recent history will forever be linked with chicanery, deceipt and manipulation of the electoral process.

What an insult.