Hood endures skepticism as Florida prepares for a close election

Election brings focus on Fla. secretary of state

Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 11:43 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - The easy part about Secretary of State Glenda Hood's job is overseeing school children's mock elections, taping public service announcements informing people about voting issues and meeting with county officials preparing for the presidential election.
What's not so fun is defending a slew of lawsuits over Florida's election process, being accused of trying to slant the presidential election in Republicans' favor and the comparisons to her predecessor, Katherine Harris.
The difference between Hood and Harris, though, is that no one gave Harris much thought until George W. Bush clung to a thin lead in the 2000 election, while Hood has been under scrutiny for weeks before this year's election.
Through it all, the former Orlando mayor maintains a smile as people around the country say she's acting on the side of politics instead of the voter.
Hood maintains she doesn't take the criticism personally, saying she is only trying to do her job and remain nonpartisan. It's the others, she says, that make her position out to be political.
''I know anything said is about the position and it's not about me as a person. That's very important,'' she said. ''I see a lot of division and I see a lot of anger out there in the country. I think that's very unfortunate.''
There's no doubt that whomever was in Hood's position would be looked at with a suspicious eye after 2000. During the 36-day recount, Katherine Harris was accused of taking a partisan role in the election that Bush eventually won by 537 votes.
Harris served as co-chair of Bush's presidential campaign in Florida and was criticized for certifying him as the winner while Vice President Al Gore sought recounts.
''I said from day one that I would not be involved in any political campaigns or partisan politics. I've stayed true to my word,'' Hood said. ''That was very difficult back in 2000 when people were involved in different campaigns. Statements were made and perceptions were built as a result.''
But she is a Republican appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, who is the president's brother, and Democrats say she can't be nonpartisan.
''It's unfortunate that she has acted in an extremely partisan manner and I lay the blame at the feet of Jeb Bush because I think she's following his orders,'' said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox.
He offers several examples to prove his case: - Her office fought a lawsuit Democrats filed to keep Ralph Nader off the Nov. 2 ballot. She appealed a judge's order to keep Nader's name off, which allowed his name to appear on absentee ballots shipped overseas. Democrats, who blame Nader for Gore's loss in 2000, eventually lost their case.
- Hood refused to allow Democrats to name a replacement for congressional candidate Jim Stork, who was facing incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw. Hood said Stork, who stopped campaigning because of a heart condition, missed a deadline to withdraw. A judge later said she was wrong.
- Hood recommended voter registration forms that didn't have a citizenship box checked be rejected even though an oath at the bottom of the form has applicants swear they are citizens. Many of the incomplete forms were turned in by groups registering minority voters, who tend to support Democrats. So far, Hood has successfully fought lawsuits challenging her decision.
''Her name has become synonymous with unfairness and that's unfortunate,'' Maddox said.
Hood said in each case, her goal is to follow state and federal election laws.
''I work very, very hard every day to make sure I work with all people and that I'm listening to all perspectives and that in the end we're following the law,'' she said.
Hood served as mayor of Orlando for eight years after 10 years on the city council. She owned a public relations firm and was active in a number of civic groups. She first became involved in government as a member of Orlando's municipal planning board.
She also chaired the state's Domestic Security Advisory Panel and served as the president of the Florida League of Cities.
In 2002, she became the first person named to the secretary of state position after Florida voters changed the constitution and made it an appointed position instead of an elected cabinet position.
While Democrats say she's partisan, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Carol Jean Jordan and Orange County party chairman Lew Oliver say she has never become involved with party decisions or activities.
''She was not what I call a political person. She was not an activist in the Republican party,'' said Jordan. ''She attended events when we asked, but she wasn't what I call a grassroots Republican activist.''
Oliver found the same thing on the county level.
''She was very standoffish from the local party organization. The general feeling was that apart for the gubernatorial and presidential election campaigns, Glenda was very nonpartisan,'' Oliver said, adding that as mayor, ''she was very, very available and open to both political parties. It is impossible to find any identifiable policies during her time in office that a reasonable person would find to be partisan.''
His counterpart at the Democratic party couldn't disagree more.
''She's an extremely partisan individual who masquerades it well with her rhetoric of good government,'' said Doug Head, the Democrat's Orange County chairman. ''I certainly don't believe she's any different than Katherine Harris.''
Oliver said the criticism would be there for whoever Bush picked to do the job.
''If Jesus Christ showed up and was made secretary of state tomorrow, the Democrats would have him up on a cross and crucified in no time,'' Oliver said.

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