TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the official presiding over her state's disputed presidential election, has turned to a law firm with ties to Gov. Jeb Bush for legal advice and is privately meeting with prominent Republicans.
Harris hired the firm, Steel, Hector and Davis, last weekend to serve as her special counsel, said Jonathan Sjostrom, a lawyer at the firm who is advising Harris on litigation issues. The firm also confirmed Wednesday that it is working with Mac Stipanovich, a Republican operative who ran Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign and was a top adviser to Harris in her 1998 campaign. While the firm did not say which case Stipanovich was involved in, Sjostrom did not deny Stipanovich is helping the firm represent Harris.
For an elected official such as Harris to hire outside experts in such a complex and high-stakes proceeding as the Florida election dispute is not unusual. Harris, a former real estate agent and state senator, has little experience in electoral law, and high turnover on her staff has left her with few in-house experts on the subject.
But Florida Democrats have made an issue of Harris' active support for Texas Gov. George W. Bush and cited every connection she has with him and his brother as evidence that she cannot administer state election law in a nonpartisan manner.
"It becomes clearer and clearer by every action she takes, every statement she makes, that she is still the co-chairman of the Bush campaign of Florida and not our secretary of state," said Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. "It's my guess that she gets a substantial portion of her marching orders right out of Austin."
Even before her announcement Wednesday night that she was denying the attempts by several Florida counties to submit hand recounts of last week's presidential vote, she has emerged as a hero to Republicans in the bitterly partisan aftermath of Florida's breathtakingly close presidential election.
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