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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Thom Rumberger was a member of the Florida governor's bipartisan 2001 Select Task
Force on Elections (Jim Smith and Dr. Tad Foote, co-chairs); he expresses happiness
at his selection and emphasizes how much he learned. He describes the Task Force's
interviewing process, which led to recommendations sent to the governor and
legislature (1). Chief among these was to lease voting machines, due to prohibitive cost
and frequent technological advances, but uniformity was not an issue and other forms of
vote-counting are discussed (2-3). Another committee recommendation was the use of
provisional ballots, about which Rumberger was initially reluctant due to opportunities
for fraud and negative overtones (3). Rumberger emphasizes the divisiveness of the
issue of felons voting, and states that felons should be allowed to vote after a set period
post-incarceration (4). He dispels rumors of fraud regarding a list of felons compiled by
a Texas firm and Democratic voter purges (4).
Rumberger talks about the Civil Rights Commission's report on the election, holding that
the list of voters' responsibilities he drew up is not a throwback to the Civil Rights Era
(5-6). He states that partisanship of election supervisors is inconsequential, which
segues into a discussion on pollworkers (6-7). Rumberger, who has been involved in
legal aspects of the Dale Earnhardt case, says that First Amendment issues conflict
with the possibility of calling the election only after an entire county has voted, and
although he desires greater conformity within the state, does not think this method is
feasible (7). He states that problems exist with the removal of the second primary and
lack of appropriate funds and time for voter education (8-9). He states that clarified
standards for voter intent and means of recounting are necessary (9-10).
Rumberger then answers questions about his political affiliation an admirer of George
H. W. Bush, he worked actively for Jeb and George Bush, often as a liaison to
environmental groups (10). He acted as a Republican Party advisor during the election
and states that Democrat post-election opposition to the butterfly ballots probably would
have been better served by contesting early (11-12). He assesses the skills and
strategies of the lead attorneys for the Bush and Gore campaigns, Barry Richard and
David Boies, and briefly Joe Klock, who represented Katherine Harris (12-13). He
discusses the impact of political figures and perceived demagogues in Florida during the
recount controversy, and the public relations strength of the Bush campaign (12-14).
Rumberger speaks about the role of protests and the overseas military vote; these
characterize the role-playing he perceives Democrats and Republicans as engaged in
(14-16). He discusses the discretionary involvement of Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush
in Republican activities (16-17). Regarding a manual recount, Rumberger criticizes the
Florida Supreme Court's decision and responds to Martin and Seminole County
disenfranchisement cases, as well as the Florida Legislature's decision to seat Bush
electors if the December 12 deadline was not met (18-22). He discusses the impact of
decisions by the Florida Supreme Court and lower courts in the context of the U.S.
Supreme Court decision (22). He believes that constitutional crisis was imminent before
the case was taken, but that few precedents formed as a result; there is an issue of the
Court's credibility being reduced by denying the Fourteenth Amendment aspect of the
case (23-24). Rumberger considers the Bush administration to be in sound condition
after September 11 (24). The main impact of the Florida election debacle, he
concludes, may be to mobilize voters who have now learned a great deal about the
election process (25).
Interviewee: Thom Rumberger
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: October 31, 2001
P: It is October 31, this is Julian Pleasants and I am in Tallahassee, Florida with
Thom Rumberger. I would like to start with your experience as a member of the
governor's 2001 Select Task Force on Elections. How were you chosen?
R: I don't know exactly. There were, as you know, ten Republicans and ten
Democrats selected and one Independent. At some point in time I was asked to
do what I expected. [It] may have been on the base of a general interest in
politics and my son was over there as one of the governor's lawyers, so these
things work in mysterious ways. It was something that I was very interested [in]
and anxious to do. I got a call here one day and I certainly was thrilled with the
opportunity, and as it progressed I learned a great deal. I always thought having
been in politics, that you ran for election and you got votes and you won. I
learned that was not necessarily the case.
P: The chairman was Jim Smith [co-chair, governor's Select Task Force on
Elections; Florida Secretary of State, 1987-1995.]
R: Jim Smith was the Republican and Dr. [Tad] Foote [co-chair, governor's Select
Task Force on Elections; president, University of Miami,1981-2001] from the
University of Miami...
P: In the process of dealing with the election issues, did you bring in experts? How
did you carry out your assignment?
R: We had lots of folks. I don't know what the end result was but there was several
hundred people some experts and just people off the street folks who had
either been aggrieved or somehow wanted to participate in it. We had people
from the Division of Elections, we had a lot of people from the supervisors of
elections [offices] throughout the state, various supervisors some of whom I
might add were just remarkable people. Pam lorio [Mayor, Tampa, 2002-;
supervisor of elections, Hillsborough County, 2000] from Tampa was an
outstanding person. Then we had people who came from other locations who
offered their advice and their feelings and their beliefs [as to] where we went
wrong or what we had done right, that sort of thing we being Florida.
P: In the end, your recommendations went to the legislature, is that correct?
R: Well, it went to the governor first.
P: One recommendation was to lease machines rather than buy machines.
R: Yes sir.
P: Why would you choose that option?
R: We chose that on the basis of very practical [reasons]. We were afraid, at least
at the time that we did that and that and that was only a year ago, we were of the
opinion that there might be a lot more opportunities for advancements, technical
advancements in the equipment, which were not present even a year ago. We
did not want to get caught with millions and millions of dollars of equipment that
could easily be obsolete in a relatively short period of time. It was with the best
of motives that we thought, well, [why don't] we just lease the darn things or at
least recommend that we lease them, and at that point maybe there will be
something that comes down the pipe that will be very useful. For example, now
they are talking about the touch screens. That was not a proposal. It was talked
about, but it had not been approved by the Department of State or the Division of
Elections even at that point, so that was what was in our minds as we went
through that process.
P: Plus the touch screens are very much more expensive.
R: Yes they are, but I think there would have been a recommendation if they had
been approved and they were working. We would have made a recommendation
that certainly would be one that we would have to consider. It just was not
approved, so we thought we would be way ahead, dollar-wise, to lease and then
look and see what the market was in a couple years. We were very concerned
with having equipment ready for the 2002 election.
P: What do you think of the decision now to encourage the purchase of the new
types of optical-scan machines, but not to have a standard uniform machine
across the state?
R: I think the evidence was very clear that the optical scan was the best unit
available at the time, and probably are the best and may be the best for some
period of time. Although you have to understand that probably every person in
the world who has anything to do with machinery for voting is working very
diligently at this moment. We were convinced that optical screens at the precinct
level was the only way to go, and we thought that uniformity should be the way to
go, but you have to understand that the supervisors of elections are constitutional
officers, with their bailiwicks well-defined and taken care of. Also, they have their
friends and so forth, so I expect that perhaps that is the reason it did not become
uniform, but I think it should have.
P: There may be a problem if there are different types of machines. I think the Task
Force recommended that they should be precinct-based?
R: Yes, precinct-[based].
P: I don't know if that is part of the new law, but I don't believe it was.
R: Yes, I don't know exactly how it turned out, but that was a strong
recommendation because anything other than precinct-based was demonstrated
conclusively to be a lot more fraught with problems.
P: Some people still argue that Union County has the best system, they vote with
R: I think that there was a study by MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and
somebody else, I forget the two universities, and they went down the list and
paper was first [as most accurate]. Now of course, that may not work so well in
Dade County but...
P: In small counties it is okay.
R: Certainly you cannot beat the paper.
P: Let me ask you your personal views on some of these issues. One of the
recommendations which was in the 2001 election reform law was the provisional
ballot. Do you think that is a good addition to the law?
R: I do, in a general sort of way. I think it is a little more difficult to operate than
perhaps some of the folks thought, but yes, I think it is good because we have,
currently, not a very good system for excluding people with criminal records and
this sort of thing. Yes I do, I think I came to it, I don't know that I was in favor of it
before we started, but as I mentioned at the beginning or before we got on tape, I
learned a great deal in the process. I think I came to [be in favor of] provisional
ballots, it is something that should be watched and something that should be
carefully monitored, but I think it is probably the right thing to do.
P: There are two possible areas of concern. Number one to have provisional
ballots means that the system is not working very well, and two there is an
opportunity for fraud.
R: I think both of those are certainly possibilities, and I think that was my reluctance
at the beginning to sponsor them, but I heard so many things about people
walking in who were really properly registered and they were not permitted to
vote and I concluded overall that perhaps it was the best thing of bad choices.
P: Should felons be allowed to vote?
R: Now, you are into some Republican philosophy. I don't have any problems I
guess with felons, per se, voting. I think that there should be perhaps an easier
way for them to clear their record than has been possible in the past. Some of
my cohorts on the commission would like them to vote from the booking station.
I [thought] that was a little absurd, that is one of the areas I changed a bit. Of
course, candidly, it is a Democrat Republican sort of thing in some ways.
There [are] 600,000 [to] 800,000 felons who are denied the right to vote and I
think you could say those who would vote, although I would doubt very many of
them would, would for the most part vote Democratic, so the Republicans would
say, whoa, that is more Democrat votes. It should not be nearly as complicated
to get their right to vote. I think with a few restrictions, the guy who smoked dope
in 1902 probably should [be allowed to vote]. I think you can make some
significant recommendations and some rules that would be acceptable. I think
violent felonies might be something to look at closely, but it is really a question of
what the crime [is] and how many crimes and that sort of thing. Maybe it is too
fine a distinction to make, but basically, I think people who have committed a
felony and who have been straight for a period say, of two years, following the
serving of their sentence, probably should be allowed to vote.
P: What about this list of felons that was compiled by a Texas company, which
obviously had a lot of mistakes in it? A lot of elections supervisors I have talked
to refused to even use it, they finally threw it out.
R: Well, it just became not useful.
P: There has been at least one book written about this, that said this was a
deliberate attempt to try to purge potential Democratic voters.
R: I have to tell you and we heard several hundred participants and I heard not one
word in the course of that election commission about fraud. Nobody else sitting
on that commission heard about fraud. [Some people said] there were state
troopers out there on the road on the way to the polls and they stopped people.
Let us look into this, there were six cars stopped, two of which had black voters
in it. It was two-and-a-half miles from the precinct and it was a routine traffic stop
and did not have a damn thing to do with votes. That is the kind of stuff that just
keeps coming up and the stories are retold, but there is nobody [that] came up
and said, I was stopped as I walked in and they took away my voting card. It just
never happened, so most of that I think is made up, exaggerated. I certainly did
not hear it and I had senators on one side and Representative Chris Smith
[Florida state representative, 1998-present] on the other and they did not hear
anything about fraud, although they went out sometimes and talked about it. I
was very unimpressed with any [alleged] fraud and I would think that the
business about somebody scheming and plotting and having the criminals
excluded by virtue of payment to the Texas firm is nonsense.
P: While we are on that subject, the Civil Rights Commission, as you know, did a
study of this and came out with the conclusion that blacks were ten times more
likely to have spoiled their ballots, that 14.4 percent of blacks in the state of
Florida had their ballots spoiled and that this was essentially, in the term they
used which is interesting, an example of disenfranchisement. What is your
comment on that?
R: I think if you read the report of the Civil Rights Commission and read their back-
up data you will see that they kind of go like this. I spoke at the American Bar
Association meeting on a panel with the Civil Rights [Commission] vice-chairman
and with two or three others with [a] similar philosophy and I went up and my full
and absolute intent was to represent Florida in a moderate sort of way. To
discuss, hopefully intelligently, the things that we encountered. By the time we
got halfway through it I was so inflamed and it just became hilarious. Certainly, I
thought my response was all out of proportion to [an] experienced trial lawyer,
but I could not help it. The Civil Rights [Commission] thing was such nonsense,
the whole report was nonsense. It was nothing but a laying-on of ends to try to
do something to jab into the Republicans, and they still [have] a lawsuit going
down in Miami it is not they, [meaning] the Civil Rights [Commission], but
people out of that same environment and that too is nonsense. One of the things
they complain about is the Voter's Bill of Rights and I, Thom Rumberger, added
[a list of] responsibilities. That is one of the things that they are complaining
about that you should know something about your candidate.
P: I have talked to a couple of the black legislators and they argue that this is a
hold-over from the Civil-Rights Era, particularly for elderly blacks. They say, you
have to be courteous, you have to know your candidates, and they feel like this is
a series of requirements that will enable them to lose their right to vote. If they
see that, they say well, I don't know if I can meet all of these requirements. They
do see that, because of past history, as intimidation. A white [person] might not
see it that way but they claim they do see it that way.
R: I can only say in a very non-intellectual way, that is absurd. I was there when
Chris Smith, who is a legislator and who served on our committee, and Senator
Daryl Jones [Florida state senator, 1992-present; Florida state representative
1990-1992] both of whom had some comments afterwards and they thought that
was just fine during the course of that meeting. It is something that they have
grabbed hold of. Daryl is a good friend of mine and he really is, contrary to the
Republican world. I have contributed to the [George W.] Bush [U.S. President,
2001-present] campaign and have caught all kind of crap about that. It is just
something they have made up now. Read the responsibility, it is absurd, it is
trying to say, folks, you [have] got rights and you [have] got responsibilities, that
is the way it is and it is very innocuous.
P: Some of the responsibilities are to study and know candidates, keep voter
address current, know precinct hours, bring proper voting identification, know
how to operate voting equipment properly, respect privacy of other voters, these
are the list of things.
R: Yes, and how can anyone find that obtrusive?
P: Let me mention that Abigail Thernstrom, who is the Republican member of the
Civil Rights Commission, strongly disagreed with the report. She said it sets back
our progress and that there were examples of inflated rhetoric and anecdotal
testimony and one of the things that upset her was the use of this term
disenfranchisement, because it harkens back to pre-civil rights days when the
poll tax was used.
R: It is code words in the opposite way, coming from the opposite direction. Yes, I
read her report, her dissent. One of the objections to the dissent, [as] you know,
was that it was too long, seriously.
P: Should all election supervisors be nonpartisan?
R: Perhaps it would sell well with the public, I think there is some feeling that they
would like to be nonpartisan. In a Republican county they don't want to be
Democrat or in a Democratic county they don't want to be Republican. Basically
it is really for show, I don't think it makes a whit-bit of difference, but you know if it
makes them feel good, go ahead and do it, I just don't think it is critical. Don't get
me wrong, I would not oppose it but it does not make a difference. There are so
many laws that [if] they break them, they are criminally involved.
P: Pam lorio and I have talked to a number of supervisors of elections.
R: I was very impressed with her.
P: She is outstanding, and we have talked to eighteen or nineteen of them. They
are actually offended by the criticism that they were partisan, because they bend
over backwards to be fair. They really cannot afford not to be fair.
R: The only ones I could see is, as I said, I could see a Democrat in an evolving
Republican area wanting it, but it just does not make a whole lot of difference.
P: One of the problems the supervisors talk about that is critical, is having more poll
workers and better pay. How do you go about achieving that?
R: That came over hard and loud and clear. Pam, for example, and somebody else,
has hundreds of poll workers, they are all elderly, they all come, they all fall
asleep, and they don't learn anything about their job and they all go home.
Somebody was talking about extending the poll hours and I don't recall whether it
was Pam or [one of the] other supervisors [who said], you are crazy, we have a
hell of a time keeping them [awake] for four or five hours and to put [added
hours] on to them from early hours until late at night, this particular reference in
the Panhandle [said], we will not have any poll workers. That just begs for some
solution, just begs for a solution.
P: What about the idea of making some federal law that would prevent the calling of
an election until the entire country has voted?
R: You mean calling in the sense that you are declaring the victor?
R: Well I don't know, I expect you might be getting into ...
P: The First Amendment issues.
R: The First Amendment issues, yes, I think that one just leaps out at you clearly. I
have been involved this last year with a lot of First Amendment stuff. I represent
the Earnhardt [Dale Earnhardt, deceased race car driver] family and the media
operation, so I have got First Amendment [issues] and all that just growing out of
my ears. I don't think that would work. I would love to see it work here in Florida
where we have the two [geographical] districts, I think that all our local elections,
governors, secretaries of state and whoever is left to be elected in the new
constitution. I would think that we should try although there is some belief like
Earl Hutto [U.S. Representative from Florida, 1979-1995] who was on our
committee. Earl was a...
P: Former Democratic congressman.
R: [He is a] congressman, great guy, he said it will not work, so there were some
discussions about that. I personally think that we should adjust the hours or do
something that brings both sections of the state into conformity. I believe that I
think that for us it is important. It [would be] great if you could do it across the
country but [with] three hours spread, when do you start the California [voting],
ten o'clock in the morning? It becomes very difficult.
P: I don't know if you dealt with this issue at all, but the election supervisors always
complain about the time frame between the first election and the run-off, so the
legislature did away with the second primary, you think that was wise?
R: We discussed that at great length and finally concluded, I think on a lot of
anecdotal information, [that] we would not have had Lawton Chiles [Florida
governor 1991-1998 (died in office); U.S. Senator, 1971-1989], and we would not
have had Reubin Askew [Florida governor 1971-1979], and we would not have
had this one and we would not have had that one, if we didn't have the second
primary. We thought that there would be a great deal of opposition to it. I think
there is always some general [opposition, and] this was not necessarily spoken
loudly and clearly but there was some suggestion that if you did away with the
second primary you [would] end up with a lot of those people who are compelled
to vote, meaning generally, [the] religious right or whoever getting a hold of that
first primary and if not, a hell of a lot left. As you know those things do occur
and during the second primary for that matter. We didn't and I don't know the
machinations of [Tom] Feeny [Florida state representative, 1990-1994, 1996-
present, speaker of Florida House of Representatives, 2001-present] and the
boys over there about doing [away] with it. I think it is going to be a problem.
P: Well, of course the Democrats would argue that they did it just to get Jeb Bush
[Florida governor, 1999-present], reelected and then they will restore it.
R: We had no direction, nobody gave us any direction. I was with party people and
party chairmen and they just left us alone. Maybe they ought to get us locked
with Feeny, I don't know.
P: The other issue I presume that took a lot of time was the education of voters. We
see over and over again that there were 110,000 over-votes, 65,000 under-votes,
mistakes made by people who clearly didn't know how to vote. Some people
voted for all candidates for president. What recommendations did you make in
R: Get smarter voters. [laughter] We have a difficult state, we have a lot of elderly
[voters]. I am sure there were a lot of observations to the effect that if they could
run six bingo cards simultaneously, they ought to be able to run their voting
machine. [There were] some confusing ballots, although I didn't find them as
confusing as most people did. There were just lots of things, we have the
Spanish, the Hispanic folks, and [the] language [issue]. We had a tremendous
number and I think this has been overlooked, we had a tremendous number of
first-time voters and that in itself lends to having a lot of mistakes. The black vote
was way up and in the past they didn't vote that [heavily]. So, you take a whole
bunch of things and put it all together [and problems will occur]. Over the years
for example, the Cubans had kind of learned the system when they voted, [and]
although they are not great voters, they learned. Now we have Guatemalans,
and the Ecuadorans, this is all new stuff for them, so I think there were a lot of
things certainly education could be [emphasized] a lot more and if I were to
[head the process] I would put a lot more money into education because they just
don't know [how to vote]. Nobody knows who the hell the judge is, so [a]
contested election we don't end up with [that situation with the election of]
judges. [It is] just whose last name ends in A [wins]. [That] is kind of the way it is.
When that extends over into everything else it becomes a of sorts.
We talked a lot about it. Nobody had any great recommendations, it is just
money, education, and it [has to] be done and it is a real fault in our system.
P: One of the issues of course is in Duval County, where 22,000 votes were thrown
out partly because of its ballot design and partly because this get-out-five-voters-
drive to bring voters with you. The directions said vote every page, so they
tended to mark everything. One election supervisor said, they have a sample
ballot and they give it to the person. They fill it in when they sign in to show that
this is how to do it. As you sign in, you have to do that sample ballot. Now, of
course that takes more time.
R: You mean vote for the person on the sample ballot?
P: No, it is just a sample.
R: This is a preliminary ballot, O.K. Joe Jones for governor. I understand now.
P: No, actually the oval is next to their name.
R: Yes, it is going to take a lot more time. It is great, I think it is wonderful, but
would you do it in precincts that are way over capacity? I don't know.
P: Should the legislature come up with a more specific definition of a standard to
determine the intent of the voter?
R: Yes, and I think they are out there working on that now, I read an article in the
paper, I believe it was yesterday or the day before. I know the superintendent or
whatever he is called, Clay...
P: [Clay] Roberts [Director, Florida Division of Elections].
R: Roberts, was speaking to a group down in South Florida and was outlining what
they believe the definition of intent should be. It was in the newspaper yesterday.
P: So, particularly in terms of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, it is unclear if the
canvassing board decides what the intent of the voter is. There is a different
decision from every canvassing board.
R: I was struck and I am sure any thinking person was struck regardless of politics,
[by] this holding up to the light and divining, that does not seem to be [right]. For
example, I remember one specific [example], somehow they circled either D or R
as opposed to the candidate for governor, [their] vote then counted for the
Republican or the Democrat as a ballot for the Republican or Democrat. You
have not got a hold of that yet from Clay?
R: It was just an article in the paper, I get the morning clips everyday. It was
yesterday in the clips.
P: An issue that came up when the automatic recount was triggered, it is not clear
and was not clear at least from the Secretary of State [Katherine Harris, 1998-
present], how that re-count should be handled. Some election supervisors tallied
the machine count, some went back and did a hand re-count. Should that be
clarified as well?
R: Yes, although I do believe with the optical scanner precinct-based you are not
going to have a lot of problems with that.
P: Certainly you are going to have fewer over-votes. Let me go to another series of
issues. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the campaign, as well. Would you
give me an overview of your participation in this campaign? I know that you
worked very hard for George W. Bush, on at least several occasions. Were you
involved specifically in this campaign?
R: Yes, I was, I was involved with it. The pictures [are] around the corner there of
their father Jeb and George [Bush] [U.S. president, 1989-1993; U.S. vice-
president, 1981-1989] the old George, the senior George, the king George. I
became an admirer of him even during the [Ronald] Reagan [U.S. President,
1981-1989] years before Reagan was elected. I am just saying this for our
conversation, and he kind of represented my philosophy socially, he was pretty
much on-track with me and economically he was in pretty good shape there with
me. I would say somewhat moderate and Republican party, that is kind of where
I wanted to be. And so then, now along come the boys. In 1994 I was very
active in Jeb's campaign and then I found him to be perhaps not exactly what I
wanted. I have had a request from the family to be involved with G.W.'s [George
W. Bush] campaign, so I did what I could do. I went out and I met people, and I
traveled and I am very involved in the environmental community. I represent
most of the interests in the Everglades who are in restoration. The Everglades
Foundation, the Everglades and all these kind of groups, so I try to be a
liaison to the environmental groups about the George [W.] Bush [campaign]. I
did a lot of work in that community all over the state and other places, so that
was my contribution.
P: Were you at all involved in either the protest of the election or the contest of the
R: I was involved only in an advisory kind of way, I didn't go out to the field, I didn't
care much about doing that, frankly.
P: It seemed pretty clear that the Republican party was extraordinarily well-
R: I worked with the party in 1992 in the redistricting, and the people who were
involved in this last thing were all the people that I had worked with. I spent a lot
of time as kind of a senior counsel and that is what I did.
P: What is your reaction to the Democrats' challenge to the butterfly ballot saying
that it was illegal and disenfranchised voters?
R: Those ballots were published and are submitted to party functionaries before the
ballot is put on the machine. I didn't hear any word about those ballots, [at] any
time until after the election, so I don't put much mark in that. I don't have much
interest in it, I think if somebody [had] gone out and protested and somebody,
being the supervisor, put it on, then I think they have a claim. Just to get it
ignored as routine, which they did and there is no doubt about that, and then start
bitching about it, then leave.
P: What is your reaction to the Gore campaign's decision to protest the election,
particularly in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Volusia County?
R: I thought it was pretty fascinating that they picked the Democratic counties to
protest in, that says something right there. That is American politics, I don't find it
shocking, I think they might well have dropped off a little before the final ending,
but I don't have any difficulty with that. They certainly didn't make it now, have
not made it any more difficult for Mr. Bush to govern and that would be the only
issue I would be concerned with.
P: Dexter Douglass [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election] mentioned...
R: Dexter is a partisan.
P: He mentioned that he thought, and in fact had recommended to Gore that he
give up the protest and go right to the contest. Perhaps had they done that
sooner, they might have had a better chance, would you agree with that?
R: Yes, I would.
P: Had they contested the election, could Gore have won?
R: Well, the could-woulds you know are always difficult, but in my opinion [it] would
be exactly what he said, which is that they certainly would have had a better
chance, I believe. The Republicans were so much better organized than the
[Democrats]. The Democrats had a fine lawyer, but they didn't have a fine group,
I mean people out in the field. We had third-level people out of major law firms in
Chicago, or New York who were just brilliant folks and they just went at it.
P: Was most of this done by Al Cardenas [chairman, Florida Republican party] or
Jeb Bush? Who organized the Republicans?
R: Al was part of it, but Ben Ginsburg [attorney for George W. Bush in 2000
election] was the organizer. Ben is with the Patton Boggs law firm, Tommy
Boggs [attorney in Washington, D.C.] [is] a big Democrat lobbyist.
P: What is your assessment of the lead lawyers on both sides, start with Barry
Richard [attorney for George W. Bush in 2000 election], how do you think he did?
R: I thought Barry was magnificent, I always thought he was kind of a hack frankly,
just a guy in Tallahassee. I didn't mean that like he was a hack, just another guy.
I thought he was great, I thought he just did a wonderful job and he certainly
made me a believer. I became very impressed with him. All I have done for all
my career is try lawsuits and I was very favorably impressed.
P: What is your assessment of David Boies [attorney for Al Gore in 2000 election]?
R: I thought he was good, very quick, very bright, very articulate. I think there are
gaps in his education in terms of some of the things he could have argued, but
he was very good. He did the best he could, he is making chicken salad out of
chicken poop, you know.
P: Was this a case decided by lawyers?
P: So it really would not have mattered who represented each side?
R: I don't think it would matter, you were asking me about their performance, or I
thought you were asking me about their performance.
P: Yes, I was, but what about Joe Klock [attorney representing Katherine Harris in
R: Joe is the managing partner of a large law firm, I don't want to say [certain
things]. Joe is fine, he is the chairman [of the board] of the Collins Center for
Public Policy and he is on my board so, I cannot say a hell of a lot.
P: I thought it was very interesting in the first lawsuit filed by the Republicans by
Barry Richard in the U.S. district court, that they brought up the issue of the
Fourteenth Amendment equal protection, as well as the First Amendment. Is it
one of those lawsuits where you just sort of put everything in the pot and hope
something turns up?
R: I think so.
P: It was still rather prescient in a way for him to pull this out, was it not? Particularly
in light of the history of the United States Supreme Court under [William]
Rehnquist [U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1972-present; Chief Justice of the U.S.
Supreme Court, 1986-present].
P: Because they had not ruled favorably on Fourteenth Amendment issues.
P: Talk a little bit about the evolution of this struggle. In many cases Republicans
and Democrats alike were bringing people from all over the country and they
were carrying signs, and they had t-shirts. They were facing off and Jesse
Jackson [civil rights leader, founder of the Rainbow Coalition] is here, and
Governor Racicot of Montana [Montana governor, 1993-2001], and Bob Dole
[U.S. Senator from Kansas, 1969-1996; Republican Presidential candidate, 1998]
all of these, what impact did all of this activity have?
R: I know a friend of mine who is manager of the governor's club [who] thought it
was great, and the hotel over them, the Governor's Inn, and I think most of the
restaurants enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed it, I became very good friends with
Bill Hemmer [news anchor, CNN] from CNN who is a great kid, and conservative,
which is kind of surprising. He made his mark and now he is the lead
commentator on CNN. I don't know that it made an impression, it maybe made
our Supreme Court a little more cautious, in the sense of [being] a little more
deliberate. I don't know what the hell it did to the Supreme Court of the United
States, but it was a show, it was just a show. I would get up in the morning and I
would go over, sometimes I would be on CNN, sometimes I was not, but I would
still go over and kind of look up and down the street, not necessarily angling for a
position that morning, just [seeing] who is here, what is going on, it was pretty
exciting, fifty trucks over there. I don't think it made much of an impression.
Jesse was down here you know just running up and down the streets screaming
and I don't think that he made much of an impression. Bob Dole certainly didn't
make much of an impression, [James] Baker [U.S. Secretary of State, 1989-
1992] didn't, the former Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher  didn't
make any impressions, but it is kind of like going to the Super Bowl you don't
give a damn about the game, it is the place to be that day. That was it.
P: In the books I have read, almost everybody gives strong marks to the
Republicans in terms of public relations so that it seemed like Gore was a sore
loser and that he was trying to steal the election.
R: No doubt about it.
P: If public opinion is a factor and courts decide to a large degree on public opinion
that could have made a difference.
R: They won that battle, walking away. The Republican party, walking away, won.
P: Why do you think they won it, was it because of the better issue?
R: No, they grabbed the issue early and never quit, they just kept pounding it as
good PR [public relations] does. [Like Adolf] Hitler and [Heinrich] Himmler, you
just keep repeating the message.
P: Where was that orchestrated from?
R: Pretty much under the aegis of, but not by, Ben Ginsberg.
P: Consulting with the Bush campaign. Another issue that the Democrats complain
about, when Miami-Dade decided to stop their counting because they didn't have
enough time, some people claim they were intimidated because there was a
large crowd, people were screaming and yelling and trying to prevent what they
thought was the counting of illegal votes. Do you think that was a factor?
R: No, I don't. I don't believe that.
P: The argument also, and several Republicans have presented it this way, the way
to win was to contest every vote so that when the votes were being counted by
Judge Charles Burton [judge, County Court, Palm Beach County] in Palm Beach
county, they came in and protested and Judge Robert W. Lee [judge, Broward
County Circuit Court] of Broward county said that many of the protests were not
fair protests. They were just trying to slow the process. Is that a reasonable
conclusion about the protests?
R: I think that is more reasonable then some of the other hypotheses you have set
forth. Yes, I think, sure. One big issue we jumped on and I don't know whether
we have discussed it, I know we have not this morning, is this vote by [people]
overseas. That was wonderful for us, I mean the [Democrats] just stumbled into
that deal, and it was, how can you say, politically stupid. There is really no nice
word you can assign to the action that they got involved with and that has won a
lot of people [over]. If we had done it today, there would not have even been a
close contest, they would have thrown those Democratic votes in the pile and
burnt them. That was wonderful, that was magnificent.
P: Dexter Douglass mentioned that, in that issue, they were really outflanked by the
R: No doubt about it.
P: Gore had the political issue rather than the legal issue in mind, so they made him
look unpatriotic to oppose votes by soldiers. Then General Norman
Schwartzkopf [leader of Allied forces in Gulf War, 1991] comes and makes a
comment. Do you think Joseph Lieberman [U.S. senator from Connecticut,
1989-present; unsuccessful Democratic vice-presidential candidate, 2000] hurt
the case when he said on national television that they were not trying to prevent
soldiers from voting?
R: In Florida he didn't hurt their case at all, in my opinion, and I don't know what
impact that may have had here in terms of that particular vote. I just know that
whatever they did, they did it wrong and I don't have any doubt about it. In fact,
in the hierarchy of the party and the people who were deciding, sitting around
having a beer after a day, everybody was just laughing because they stumbled
into a pile of poo. That is just absolutely the truth and anybody knew it. I am
sure at some point in time they realized it, that they had screwed that one up.
[End of side Al]
P: Another issue that comes up is that some of the military votes and overseas
votes which were not all military, were counted after the November 7 date. The
Bush campaign asked them to count those votes in certain counties, particularly
P: Okaloosa, Escambia, and those counties, so some of them are counted not only
after [November] 7, but as late as November 14.
R: Well, they had that three-day grace [period] after Veteran's Day.
P: Nonetheless, these should have been illegal votes if you were following Florida
R: How many were there, were there enough to swing the vote?
P: Hard to know. One of the issues here is that in one case, this is true for both
Republicans and Democrats, they are saying Katherine Harris has to be precise
and follow the law that says the vote is certified seven days after the campaign.
When it came to military ballots, they were saying we don't need to worry about
that hyper-technicality. Of course, Democrats had exactly the opposite position,
that it needs no flexibility here, but we need more leeway in this other area.
P: Yes, and that is just the name of the game?
R: I think it is.
P: Do you think, had the roles been reversed, that they would have adopted exactly
the opposite point of view, that Bush would have been yelling for every vote to be
counted, and the Democrats would have been trying to prevent them?
R: Why would he not? Yes, surely. One of the things, maybe other people have
commented upon this and maybe I should not comment on, but I would be very
leery, at least in my mind, to ascribe a lot of bad motive to Katherine [Harris].
The reason that I would is because to ascribe a lot of plotting and planning and
bad motive to Katherine, would require determination. She was really bright, and
I don't think you can make that [case], and I don't think the people who were
around her were doing that, and I know for the most part Jeb was not involved
with it, as far as Katherine was concerned. I think you can make some
assumptions but there is a degree of deviousness that has been ascribed to her
that I don't think she is capable of, in a intellectual sense. That is pretty ugly.
P: Well, but I think other people would agree with that assessment. Even Dexter
Douglass said, what would you expect? She is a Republican, if it had been a
Democrat in there, the Democrat would have done the same thing.
R: I was talking more intellectually...
P: Yes, I understand that. The Democrats would argue that all of her rulings
favored Bush. The Republicans would argue she was just following the law, but
Judge Terry Lewis [Leon County District Court Judge, 1988-present] said that
she had some discretion and she didn't exercise it. Do you think she could
R: She didn't exercise it in favor of Democrats?
R: Discretion by its very term means you have discretion, so I think in that sense, so
what. She has discretion, she exercises it.
P: Was it bad judgement to have Mac Stipanovich in her office?
R: Sure, but that is the second situation like that. How do you keep Mac out? I
mean, he is like a 400-pound bull coming through the door. Maybe she should
have [gotten] a guard, but Mac just comes and that is part of his, I cannot call it
charm, but that is him. So yes, certainly, she should have called a capitol
policeman and thrown his ass out, but she didn't.
P: Joe Klock mentioned at one point in court that there was quote, "a lot of pressure
on Katherine Harris." What do you think he meant by that, from the Bush
R: I don't know, I really don't know.
P: How involved in all of the Republican activities was Jeb Bush?
R: I think he started out involved, and I think he backed off pretty quick because he
was getting an awful lot of advice, [saying,] you better not get anywhere near this
publicity. I am sure there were times when he was participating a bit, but he was
not running that thing, he was just not doing it. He has his own state to run, he
has got his own world to run, and I think he would have done anything for his
brother, but I don't believe that he got any more involved than was necessary. As
far as directing things, I don't think he did it, I really don't. I don't know when this
is going to be published, but I honest-to-God believe he would just be the little
brother and I think it was not the situation. It is others that would be
involved with that.
P: I thought it was interesting that Katherine Harris filed a suit in the Florida
Supreme Court to end the re-count. Why do you think they made that decision?
R: I don't know. It is kind of like a lawyer at a point in time you want to just file a
notice of disappearance end it, stop it.
P: Another issue about that office Clay Roberts, and Katherine Harris they said
that there could not be a manual re-count unless there was an event like a
hurricane or malfunction of the machines. Judge Lewis and his decision strongly
disagreed with that. Since you studied this a little bit, give me your comments.
R: I think they could have had a manual recount.
P: Without any problem. There is another argument, that if she had allowed the
manual re-count in those four counties, Bush probably would have won.
R: You think that is a possibility now, but at that point you [did] not know.
P: No, of course not but at that point had she done that, the whole thing would have
been over then. You mentioned at the symposium, I think that this is an
important point, that the key of the election was that the margin of error in the
machines exceeded the margin of victory.
P: Why is that so key?
R: It sounds good. [laughter] We have just never had an election like this. Our
machines, remember I said I learned a lot about machines. I thought you pulled
your lever and your vote somewhere got counted and that was it, and I found out
it was margin of error and what was going on with it and I concluded in my own
brain that that is what happened. The margin of error in the machines was just
greater than what we had. I don't know how to phrase it any better, I thought that
was fairly graphic.
P: The Florida Supreme Court, on November 16 ruled that Palm Beach...
R: It was almost a year ago...
P: Almost a year ago, that Palm Beach and Broward could continue the hand re-
count, but left it up to Judge Lewis to determine if Katherine Harris had to include
those votes. Why would they leave it up to Judge Lewis?
R: I guess the case was pending in his court and that he was the arbitrary
determiner of that issue. You know that whole thing over our supreme court was
screwed up too, there were leaks, I was getting my opinions a day or two before,
it was getting kind of crazy over there too.
P: The determination in this decision was that they would extend the deadline until
Sunday, November 26. Where did they come up with that date?
R: I guess it would be a day or two after Thanksgiving, I don't know. I don't have
any idea, they just reached out and picked it up. I am going to tell you
something, I was over there during some of those arguments and I watched a
couple of those justices and I mean this not in any sort of philosophical way, but
they were angry, they were angry at the Bush forces. I have been trying lawsuits
for a long time and that does not make me the world's best psychologist or
whatever, but after thirty-five [or] forty years of it you start learning things. I
watched some of those judges, just furious, and I think they were furious based
on philosophy. I told people afterward, including my friend [Bill] Hemmer, this
does not bode well for the Republicans I will guarantee you. And it didn't. Charlie
Wells [Chief Justice, Florida Supreme Court, 1994-present] is a friend of mine
and has been a friend of mine for a long time and he was always very liberal, and
when Charlie Wells became the moderate or the conservative I knew we were in
deep shit, because that is not Charlie. This is just a quick aside, but it was really
kind of strange to watch this guy. They wanted to be players, just the same way
the U.S. Supreme Court wanted to be. They wanted to be involved with this thing
in a meaningful way so they started their deal and those five up there did their
deal and it is didn't [make a bit of difference]. They have the final authority up
P: Do you think when they changed the date, they were making law?
P: They argued that they were just interpreting the law.
R: Yes. Where does [the November] 26 date come from? You make it, you just
decide, you look at a calendar and say OK that will give them enough time and
they do it. That is the way it is.
P: Another issue that was coming into play was this December 12 safe-harbor
deadline, and I noticed that one time David Boies agreed to it, but when he got to
Supreme Court he was now arguing for December 18. How do you see that
date? Is it flexible?
R: I don't think it was, I think he made an argument that made it. But no, I don't
think it was flexible, I think it was a date, a real date. It was not a made-up one.
P: Two other interesting cases, Sandra Goard [supervisor of elections] in Seminole
County had allowed Republicans in to put in voter identification information on
the absentee ballot applications.
R: I was asked to represent the plaintiff in that case.
P: Harry Jacobs?
R: Yes, and I suggested to Harry that I was otherwise engaged. We do a lot of work
for his firm, like our firm does a lot of work when these young lawyers skip off and
take cases with them and that sort of thing. He is the first one
P: Did you think his case had no merit?
R: No, I didn't even debate the merits of it. [If] you think I am going to get my old
pals, you are crazier than hell.
P: Eventually of course both Martin and Seminole county Judges Nikki Clark [Leon
County Circuit Court] and Lewis rule that even though there had been some
unfair benefit to the Republicans that they could not disenfranchise all the other
voters. Do you think that was a correct decision?
R: I think the Seminole [decision] was, I don't know much about Martin [County]. I
just didn't pay much attention to Martin. I think ultimately, I thought the Seminole
decision was a correct decision. I just cannot speak to Martin, I don't know.
P: The only difference was that Martin county, Peggy Robbins [supervisor of
elections, Martin County] allowed them to actually remove the ballots from the
office. I asked David Cardwell [attorney, CNN election analyst] and he said he
didn't think it was an election law violation, but might be a public records
R: Right, I really didn't pay any attention to it. I had a feeling that the Seminole
[County] case could have been a very significant case. I heard it, watched it on
TV and listened and talked with the guys and it finally seemed to kind of resolve
P: I guess in this case the Gore people were looking to try and get an opportunity to
get votes anywhere they could find them.
R: Sure, absolutely. Though Seminole is a tough place for a [Democrat] to get a
vote. I carried that county when I ran years ago 76 percent and I was probably
the worst politician in the world.
P: Why did Katherine Harris hire Klock?
R: Democrat that is the allegation from a good Democrat firm.
P: Although she had her own legal counsel right? So this was a political move?
R: That is what she says, I don't know. Of course you go back, I was just going to
say that she is an agriculture person, and Joe Klock and his law firm have been
very large in sugar and all those kinds of things. They represent the big-time
agricultural interests, so I have to believe, and I don't know this, but I have to
believe that she would have been steered to Steel Hector [law firm] in the
agricultural world which she is from. Klock, as you know, is the managing
partner of it and I know he has good lawyers down there. I think he probably
jumped in because he thought it would be pretty neat just to be up front.
P: What do you think about his million-dollar legal services bill to the state?
R: Was that all it was?
P: It may be more, I don't know.
R: It is a question of time and hourly rate. I would assume that somebody made an
agreement with him.
P: An issue for a lot of people was whether the tax payers should pay for that when
she already had legal counsel.
R: I think that is certainly something to be thought about. The hourly rate would not
bother me as much as the jet tour to Washington and a few of those numbers
but, to each his own.
P: Your reaction to the Florida legislature, when the House voted 79 to 41 to seat
the Bush electors in case the December 12 deadline was not met. Do you think
that was a wise political move?
P: Why did they do it?
R: Well they did it on a political basis, solely and entirely, in case they got either
short of time to get their electors up, or somehow it was going to be a mess, [or]
somehow there was going to be a change in the vote count. [For] pretty obvious
reasons, they wanted to push electors up there representing the state of Florida.
P: Is that going to set some sort of precedent?
R: I don't know, I hope not because I think it was wrong, but...
P: Was that mainly Tom Feeny?
R: Sure, Feeny and a couple of other guys, one of whom is not a representative.
P: Discuss the Florida Supreme Court's second vote, the 4-3 vote which allowed the
vote counting to continue, and told Secretary Harris that she had to count those
votes from Broward. What did you think about that decision?
R: As I said on CNN, I thought that was a really base political decision by our court.
Tit-for-tat, they were just putting in their two bits, four bits. I thought it was
P: It is interesting, in a way, that the argument has been that this was a political
Democratic court but the vote was 4-3 and as you know Justice Wells' dissent
was very stinging, so it seems less political in this context does it not?
R: Yes, I would say it was philosophical as opposed to political, what each of them
felt in their gut philosophically [is reflected in their votes].
P: What is your comment on the performance by Judge Sanders Sauls [Judge,
Florida Circuit Court]?
R: Did he not get the freedom medal or something? He was there and did a job and
rendered an opinion and whether it was good, bad, or indifferent I don't know. I
just didn't pay much attention to it.
P: The Democrats were a little bit upset because they thought that he slowed the
progress of their case, and secondly, I think they expected to lose in that court
and go on to the Florida Supreme Court. One of the things that they argued is
that he really didn't count the votes and that is going to be an issue in the United
States Supreme Court. How did he determine that there is no probability that the
outcome would change unless he counts votes? Do you think that was a sound
R: Yes, I think the votes should have been counted. It reminds me of [that] mass
murderer some years back that killed all the women, very famous [Ted Bundy].
The U.S. Court of Appeals sent his appeal back to a judge there in Orlando and
told him that he could not just automatically sentence this guy to death, and that
he had to review the record. As I recall, the pages were some ten or twelve-
thousand pages. The next morning he issued an order said, having reviewed the
record I sentence him to death. Where do you go from there?
P: Were you surprised that the United States Supreme Court took the case?
P: Should they have?
R: From my political standpoint, yes. From a legal standpoint, I have very
significant doubts that they should have gotten involved with it. I think it will, as
years go on, be considered not a very good opinion.
P: [Antonin] Scalia [U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1986-present] and others argued
that if they didn't intervene, there would be a constitutional crisis. Do you agree
with that statement?
R: I think we had a constitutional crisis brewing right then. It was there, I think we
would have, but we as a country have a wonderful ability of working our way
through these things and I think we would have worked our way through it.
P: In the first remand they don't mention the Fourteenth Amendment at all, in all the
appeals to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, they deny the Fourteenth
Amendment argument and that is a pretty Republican court.
P: So, we don't hear a Fourteenth Amendment argument, where do you think that
R: Maybe Scalia was sitting on the potty, reading the Constitution again, stumbled
across, got to number fourteen, and said yes, this may apply. I don't know where
they got it. I am glad they did it, as an individual I am glad. I think that it certainly
diminished the court a great deal. However, as I also say, new events and new
things that have happened it all goes away. It will be left to you folks, the
scholars, to continue on and [decide] what impact it really does make.
P: One of the arguments that had quite a bit of resonance at least for the five in the
affirmative, was that there were no standards and a chaotic vote count that was
not equal. The Democrats would argue and said that is the reasonable-man
standard. That goes on in courts all the time.
P: In legal terms, how do you see this decision?
R: I don't know, I was going to say I hope that it does not present any precedents in
the future and I tell you frankly, I don't think it will. I don't believe it will stand for
much. It stood for George Bush becoming President of the United States and I
think that is the extent of it. I would also doubt that these folks, these being the
Supremes, ever get involved with something like this again because I feel that
they, in their own minds, must have a recognition that in some way or another
they have diminished the court.
P: Justice John Paul Stephens' [U.S. Supreme Court, 1975-present] dissent stated
exactly that, "I know who the winners or losers are and the loser is the credibility
of this court." He thought and stated that it was almost a corrupt decision, which
is a pretty strong statement.
R: I bet they are having a lot of fun up there on some other cases now with that
kind of dissent.
P: Yes, if the Fourteenth Amendment issue comes up again how will they deal with
it? Do you really think it diminished the credibility of the court?
R: Yes, I do. We had a 50-50 [percent] vote in this country, so if 50 percent of the
people even think about it, whatever percentage that is, have to think that it was
stolen by the court. The other 50 percent think that is great, they stole it from
them. I do think it diminishes the court.
P: Do you think in anyway affects the Bush presidency now?
R: No, the terrorists took care of it on September 11. He has got all kinds of rights
now to screw up all over again. Everything before that is beyond him, it does not
P: In a strange way it saved his presidency.
R: Yes, and if he can manage to somehow get out on top of this crisis, I think that it
will ensure that he has a significant presidency. Of course, you know how we are
as Americans. His daddy had 89 percent [approval rating] in January and when
[Bill] Clinton [U.S. president, 1993-2001] walked him off, he was in trouble.
September 11 gave him, in my opinion, a clean slate, because nothing has to do
anymore with the election.
P: What do you think the long term impact of this election will be?
R: I thought for awhile it might not allow people to participate as actively, as
interestingly, and just not participating as much. I think now that, for example,
the minorities are going to be well mobilized. I think the Democrats will come
back to some extent although I would suggest that this war thing is going to
hinder that to some extent, so I don't know. I [am] just guessing now, but I think
we will get more voters and that is really the only thing we need. I just hope
people participate, I really do. We are such slovenly people about voting and
taking care of our country and our interests. I really believe that, but you know
we are all peppy now in the war and [with] American flags on the cars. Maybe
we will keep it up for a little while.
P: It is certainly true that the people of this state learned more about the election
process then they ever knew. I think most people didn't know who the election
supervisor was or what he or she did, so in that sense it has fueled the demand
for better educated voters and more participation.
R: And for more information, I believe that, I really do believe it, and I think that is
going to be helpful. I think there will be a demand on people, not all, but more
than we have had, to learn.
P: Are there any other comments that you would like to make or anything that we
have not brought up that you would like to talk about?
R: No, I am really anxious to see you get the names Connie [Mack] [U.S. Senator,
1989-2001; U.S. Representative, 1983-1989] and Dexter [Douglass]. I think it
would be really fun to look at the observations, I really do.
P: I hope it will be and on that note I want to thank you very much for your time.
R: You are certainly welcome.
[End of the interview.]