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Bush's Florida Strategists Land Plum Jobs in D.C.
Published on Monday, July 15, 2002 in the Boston Globe
Bush's Florida Strategists Land Plum Jobs in D.C.
by Carol Rosenberg
 

MIAMI - John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, caused a stir in May by accusing the Cuban government of transferring bioweapons technology to rogue nations. Nineteen months ago, he caused a different stir - bursting into a Tallahassee library on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign to stop a recount of Miami-Dade County ballots.

''I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count,'' he was quoted as saying in news reports at the time.

Matt Schlapp, a former congressional aide, is White House special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs. In November 2000, he was part of the supposedly spontaneous window-pounding protest at Miami-Dade County Hall that brought to an end the first recount of Miami-Dade ballots.

Sue Cobb, a Coral Gables developer, today is the US ambassador to Jamaica. Twenty months ago, the generous Republican donor volunteered her legal skills to the Bush-Cheney campaign - working as part of the legal team that contested recounts in Miami-Dade.

Although they now serve President Bush in sharply different roles, they are among more than 50 political appointees found by the Miami Herald to have served as troops in the frantic Florida recount battle that followed the Nov. 7, 2000, election.

Political patronage has long been a reward for campaign loyalty. But the distribution of plum jobs to those who worked in Florida after the 2000 election suggests that that service became a kind of political merit badge that carried a special benefit.

''Work on the recount is the indispensable connection for work at the Bush administration,'' said Jeffrey Toobin, author of ''Too Close to Call: The 36-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election.''

Just how many Bush appointees actually served the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida is unclear. The White House declined to provide a list of administration officials who worked for the Florida campaign.

Florida lawyer Barry Richard, a Democrat who was hired by the Bush campaign to fight its legal battle over the recount, said there were 192 lawyers of record on various court cases around the state.

To identify the appointees, the Miami Herald conducted dozens of interviews and studied White House nominations and government staff directories - then matched names to news accounts, photo captions, and several books about the episode. In addition, some appointees included their recount roles in news releases, or accounts in university and law journals.

Most were lawyers who worked all-nighters in Tallahassee and across South Florida as ballot observers and political operatives as well as litigators and behind-the-scenes writers of legal briefs.

White House officials defended the appointments, noting that many appointees take big pay cuts when they move into government jobs. Appointees with Florida service to the Bush-Cheney recount effort make from $52,300 a year to $166,700 for Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also passed through Tallahassee during the recount.

Several of the people who served as political operatives and lawyers say there was no explicit quid pro quo in their decision to come to Florida to do battle with the forces of Democratic candidates Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman. But they acknowledged that the service helped them draw the attention of the Bush team.

The Florida team included major figures in the Bush administration, notably Theodore Olson, the current solicitor general, who worked on the case in both Tallahassee and Miami, then argued candidate Bush's case before the US Supreme Court, and Robert Zoellick, now the US trade representative, who served as a virtual chief of staff to James Baker, Bush's main Florida strategist.

There are many whose roles in Florida went largely unremarked at the time:

Five lawyers who did research and wrote briefs to fight Florida court challenges are now deputies in the White House counsel's office.

Three senior strategists in Tallahassee now hold $130,000-a-year jobs as general counsels to Cabinet departments.

Three members of the window-pounding crowd that on Thanksgiving Eve helped persuade the Miami-Dade County canvassing board to abandon the recount are now members of the White House staff.

Former Texas Transportation System chairman David Laney left his Austin law firm to serve as a ballot recount observer in Volusia County. Bush appointed him recently to the seven-member Amtrak Board of Directors, a federal post touted by Laney's firm as a ''leadership role in the transportation arena.'' It has no salary but pays a per diem and travel expenses.

Kevin Martin, now a $130,000-a-year commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, was one of the first Bush-Cheney people to arrive in Miami from Washington, on Nov. 8.

New York lawyer Brad Blakeman, who helped organize protests in South Florida and appeared in one Associated Press dispatch at the time as a ''Broward County GOP volunteer,'' today is director of White House scheduling.

Stuart A. Levey, associate deputy attorney general, represented Bush-Cheney in Martin County.

Boca Raton developer Ned L. Siegel, long a generous GOP donor, has been nominated by Bush to serve as a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. During the recount crisis, he sued Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, in a bid to stop the manual recount of the troubled butterfly ballots on constitutional grounds.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company

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