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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Summary of Interview (March 11, 2003)
Butterworth gives background to becoming Attorney General of Florida in 1986. He
recalls Gore phoning him to be state campaign chairman prior to Gore's official
announcement. He adds, "I said I would only do that if he was a candidate for
president." He comments that Gore started too late in the campaign, spending too
much time as Vice-President. He states that he wanted Florida to be "in play" during
the campaign. He comments about the Gore team's "southern strategy that lost the
election." He describes trying to put together a campaign base--as campaign chair--for
the Democratic Party in Florida. He relates that, in his opinion, Governor Jeb Bush was
never over-confident about his brother (George) winning Florida.
Butterworth cites the issues that he urged the Democrats to stress: Elian Gonzalez and
visiting the Florida Panhandle. He dwells on the Gonzalez issue and what Gore should
have done. He emphasizes how Gore should have gone into the Panhandle and used
such politicians as John Breaux to help him in that region. He adds that those counties
lost the election for Gore. He recounts that the "southern strategy we found out later
was to forget about the South, was to forget every southern state." He expresses
surprise that Gore chose Joe Lieberman instead of Bob Graham as his running mate.
He thinks Graham would have carried the state. He thinks that "they [Gore team]
probably sensed they were not going to win Florida so they were not going to risk doing
that [putting Graham's name on ticket]." He states that the Gore team did not push hard
enough to get Nader off the ticket in Florida. He tried to tell Gore team that the election
was going to be close in Florida.
Butterworth returns to the Nader issue with the Gore team not making any "strong push"
to get Nader off the ballot. He cites the big Florida politicos who campaigned for Gore--
except Miami mayor--Alex Penelas who could have done more for Gore. He talks about
the amount of time he spent stumping for Gore and pumping up enthusiasm for Gore.
He says that "the only reason why this race was as close [as it was] was because of the
turnout [of the blacks]."
Butterworth recalls being with Gore in South Beach (Miami) on Election Day. In the
middle of the night he learns that Gore is going to concede and then the numbers
change. He urges Gore not to concede but "to hold on." He then gets calls asking
about Florida election law. He discusses the conversation between Gore and George
Bush when Gore took back his concession. He talks about the number of television
cameras at his house at 5 a.m. on November 8--the day after the election: "I was on
every TV show in the country in the morning." Democrats wanted the world to know
about the automatic recount--rather than perceiving that Gore had asked for it, and the
Democrats wanted that statement to come from a state official to make it sound
authoritative. He adds that the Republicans wondered why Harris wasn't being
interviewed to speak about election law. He speaks about the conference with
Governor Jeb Bush and Harris not being there.
Butterworth describes the recount process and how eighteen counties did not do a
recount--only re-tallying the ballots. He says he did not know about the re-tallying until
months after the election. He recalls the Volusia County controversy with Judge
McDermott (head of the canvassing board) who would not listen to the Attorney
General. He discusses the software problems in the recount and also the fact no
standards existed. He talks about the irony of Governor Racicot from Montana playing
up Florida's lack of standards when ironically Montana and Florida have the same
election laws. He describes Warren Christopher and Bill Daley coming on the scene
and telling them on November 9 that he (Butterworth) had to resign as chair of the Gore
campaign because he cannot be both Attorney General and also the chair. His
assistant, Paul Hancock, then represented the Attorney General's office. He says his
office went "flat out by the whole law, period," but adds that Harris's office did not go by
Butterworth deals with the issue about being head of the Gore campaign in Florida while
being Attorney General. He says that it was a different case with Harris being co-chair
of the Bush campaign in Florida and also being Secretary of State and Director of
Elections: the Attorney General's opinions are advisory whereas Harris's opinions are
binding--which is a big difference. He recalls Judge Lewis's comment that "the
Secretary of State has the authority to say when the election is over." He describes the
"discretion" that Harris used in saying the vote count had to be in her office by Sunday
at 5 p.m. rather than the next day. He adds that his thinking at that time was, "I think it
will look very badly for the state of Florida." He recalls telling the Gore team to
"seriously consider asking for a recount in the entire state and only count those ballots
that were not counted." He says that Duval County should have been included in the
Democrats' request for separate counting, and they (the Gore team) realized later that
they should have considered Duval County.
Butterworth speaks about the "intent of the voter" and its precedence over hyper-
technicalities. He adds that each ballot is supposed to be counted and "there's no
standard--it's as simple as that." He states that he referred to the Palm Beach County
ballot as the "butterfly ballot" although that name may have been given earlier. He
addresses the Palm Beach County ballot issue as "voter error" not tabulation error. He
cites several reasons why Gore lost: the Gore team's southern strategy and not using
Butterworth says he never discussed strategy with the Gore team but advised that the
recount should be in the entire state: "It just doesn't look good to only ask for a couple
counties and not ask for the whole state." He states he had no role in the campaign
recount, "but when it came to legal issues, yeah, I still had duties as Attorney General,
and that's what I did." He doesn't agree with the December 12 "safe harbor" date as
being written in stone: "I don't think there's any special magic day where these things
have to go up to D.C." He comments on Baker's continuous remarks that the votes
have been counted and recounted when, in fact, they had not been counted at all. He
takes up the issue of varying standards and the human factor.
Butterworth reviews the issue about rendering a requested non-binding opinion to the
Palm Beach County Canvassing Board (about stopping the recount). He says during
this time Harris's once open-door policy between her office and the Attorney General's
office suddenly closed--and no phone calls were returned. "It was just a total shut-down
between both offices and we attempted to keep telling them we had to work together."
He describes the difference between an advisory opinion from the Attorney General and
a binding opinion from the Secretary of State. He adds that Judge Burton did not know
that an opinion from Harris's office would be binding. Regarding Harris sending an
opinion to the chair of the Republican Party in Broward County as being unusual, he
states "unusual is not the word for it because no one even knew about it." He says that
the Harris opinion in terms of legality was "flat out wrong." He decides to issue an
opinion after learning about Harris's already delivered opinion. He states that Harris's
opinion "was not even a well-written opinion." He adds that he "had no say" in the
opinion that came out of his office. He also thinks that Harris issued an opinion to the
Broward County Canvassing Board without it even requesting one. Judge Burton now
had two conflicting opinions so it went to court. He adds that even though Harris's
opinion was binding, "if it is not the law, it is not binding, period."
Butterworth discusses voter error versus correct machine counts. He comments again
on the Republican Party requesting an opinion and was it done in writing or by phone.
He adds that the Republicans were saying, in effect, "We don't give a damn what the
voters of the state of Florida wanted, we are going to choose the next president and we
want the votes topped, we don't want any more votes counted." He speaks about Mac
Stipanovich's access to Harris's office when the Democrats had no such access. He
discusses the vote counting stopped in Broward County and being "appalled" when he
found out why. He does not feel there was a need for Harris's office to use outside
Butterworth presents his views on the Judge Lewis decision giving Harris discretion. He
says, "If I was using discretion in that regard, I would bend over further towards allowing
more time because that is what I think the United States wanted and needed. We
owed a duty, we owed a responsibility [to the rest of the country]." He states he did not
have a problem with the Lewis decision; he had a "problem with the Secretary of State,
and that's from a standpoint of the image of the state." He denies being in touch with
Bill Daley and Kendall Coffee and Mitch Berger, as Harris said in her book--"I don't
know where she got that from, but I tried to keep the largest distance I possibly could
from anybody associated with [Gore]." As Attorney General, he says, he was involved
in the recount--but not as Gore's former state campaign chairman--"you can never
compromise the integrity of the Attorney General's office." He speaks about the alleged
Republican "Brooks Brothers Mob" intimidating the Miami-Dade County Canvassing
Board during its recount and the image it presented to the rest of the world.
Butterworth talks about the Florida Supreme Court extending the deadline to November
26. He does not think the court was "making law because if there was discretion there
and if an office holder abuses discretion, a court has the authority to say that." He adds
that the court was "just interpreting what a reasonable discretion would have been." But
he recalls having a problem with the court giving Harris two different dates "that didn't
make any sense to me." He does not feel that standards should have been imposed by
any judge because they had to go by the law as it was on Election Day. He emphasizes
again, "I thought the whole state had to be recounted"--even before the contest phase.
Butterworth expresses much surprise that the U.S. Supreme Court took this case
because this is a states' rights issue. He adds, "I personally was shocked at the legal
community." He thinks it was a good idea that Governor Jeb Bush "kept himself out of
the issue as much as he possibly could" but he (Butterworth) does not know what went
on behind the scenes between Governor Jeb Bush and the George Bush political team.
He thinks Jeb Bush should have appointed someone other than Bob Crawford to take
his (Jeb Bush) place on the state canvassing board, perhaps Bob Milligan. He
describes the 79-41 vote in the legislature to seat the Bush electors (spearheaded by
Tom Feeney) as being "unwise. I think it's flat out stupid. It was almost like he
[Feeney] wanted to rush it too quickly." He does not go along with Feeney's view that
"the legislature has the right to appoint the electors if there is some conflict [over the
voting] and it has not been resolved in the courts."
Butterworth says that Judge Sauls "made an error. ... I think he made an error by not
looking at the evidence in the case [the ballots transported from South Florida to
Tallahassee]; he clearly ignored the evidence before he made his decision." He cites
this incident, as well as others, that gave Florida a "black eye." He adds that many
people, including judges, did not "understand the difference between contest and
protest." He states that he does not know why the Florida Supreme Court said to count
only the under-votes. He does not feel this was a constitutional crisis, as Florida Chief
Justice Charles Wells said. He says, "I think the U.S. Supreme Court made bad law
despite the fact that they said this case is for these facts only [and] not to be used as a
precedent for anything else." He remarks that the Bush v. Gore decision was "un-
American." He recalls that the recount of under-votes was going just fine and the U.S.
Supreme Court said that the recounting must stop. He says the recount could have
been completed with twelve hours."
Butterworth states that "if in fact five U.S. [Supreme Court] justices wanted to elect the
next president and they were hell bent on doing it, they had to do it before it was
announced by anybody on live TV that Gore was one vote up." He agrees with the New
York Times assessment that this case undermined the credibility of the United States
Supreme Court. He adds that the Florida Supreme Court "could have set a standard ..
. based on what the law was at that time ... they could have codified the law as it was
before seven o'clock in the morning on Election Day." He speaks about the butterfly
ballot and voter error but does not "blame" Theresa LePore for the confusing ballot. He
discusses the issue of the invalid military votes. He states that he sent out an opinion
saying that a military envelope should be opened, "but once you opened it if there was
no date to indicate on the actual ballot itself when that vote was cast, that vote cannot
Butterworth believes that it is not "appropriate" for the entire country to have the same
standard "because, still, whatever standard you have, there's going to be a person
who's going to be the ultimate one to determine whether or not those standards were
met or not." The Attorney General's office was concerned only "about people being
treated equally .. you would at least have an opportunity to have your vote looked at."
He returns to the issue of the postmark date on military ballots. He talks about Harris
again saying she was "always out there attacking me even though I never say anything
bad about here, but in her defense, I don't think that she knew what the law was. She
did not know what the law was about [about the] automatic recount, [so] I don't know
how she would know what the law is with reference to military ballots." He addresses
the issue about military ballots being counted and the Gore team being upset with him
because his view favored Bush: "If in fact the military voter voted in accordance with the
law of the state of Florida [then] that vote should be considered if it was properly dated
and properly marked." He recalls that he kept asking his staff, "What is the law in
Florida?" He feels that in the end the military vote hurt Gore. "Any illegal vote should
not have been counted [invalid military votes] but those illegal votes, like I say, were
counted before I gave out my opinion in most cases."
Butterworth says that there were "some real improprieties in a number of counties,"
such as Seminole and Martin counties. He feels that Gore should have listened more
carefully to Florida lawyers rather than the outside lawyers. He speaks about Gore's
hands-on approach and concern about his public image. He reaffirms that "the election
was not won or lost before or after the Election Day; it was lost on the southern
strategy." He describes Jim Baker as being "a very good spokesman for the Bush side.
He's a very dynamic man." He says we will never know who won the Florida vote. He
describes how this experience impacted his life: "I have no regrets being involved in the
campaign." He tried "to protect the integrity as best as possible of the office of Attorney
General not only here in Florida, but [in the] United States. I think we were able to
walk that fine line."
Butterworth does not think "the U.S. Supreme Court should have gotten involved in that
case and I think that's still my major disappointment of everything." He questions Mac
Stipanovich and Joe Klock's involvement with Harris: "Here the state of Florida is going
to pay them a whole lot of money from the Secretary of State's office to really represent
Bush." He credits Richard and Douglass and Boies as being "very professional." He
believes that this case had "a terrible impact... on the state of Florida." He comments
that he told Governor Jeb Bush that Florida "had to do this in such a way that [it] was
above reproach. Unfortunately, I don't think that happened." He talks about his role
in the Electoral Reform Act of 2001. He adds that Florida got a "black eye" during the
post-election process and therefore reforms had to be made. He talks about Governor
Chiles offering him an opportunity to serve on the Florida Supreme Court but he was too
involved in the Florida Big Tobacco cases and he thought a woman should be
appointed. He recalls seriously considering running for governor in 1990. He then
gives his view of the death penalty.