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Guarding Harris has cost $50,000

By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2001

Since the election, state taxpayers have paid for FDLE agents to guard Katherine Harris on trips abroad and in Washington.

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's taxpayers have spent almost $50,000 providing security services for Secretary of State Katherine Harris since last year's election.

Agents for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began guarding Harris on Nov. 15, 2000, during last year's election crisis and continued to provide round-the-clock security for her home and office off and on until Feb. 6. They accompanied Harris during six days of festivities surrounding George W. Bush's inauguration in Washington in January and again last month on a seven-day trip to South America.

FDLE agents traditionally provide security only for governors and their immediate family, but state law allows them to guard any Cabinet officer upon special request from the governor or the Cabinet member. They also provide security for visiting governors, ambassadors, presidents, heads of state and others when help is requested by the governor or a Cabinet member. Other members of the state Cabinet say they have not requested similar security for themselves, but agree that Harris' situation was unprecedented. "If anyone is at risk, I'd assume that FDLE would automatically provide security," Attorney General Bob Butterworth said Tuesday. Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher agreed that Harris was in a special position.

"She's been in the middle of a lot of high profile stuff," Gallagher said Tuesday. "She's a hero to one group and a demon to others. That makes her a target."  Butterworth, a Democrat who was Florida chairman for Vice President Al Gore, said he was not aware of the security being provided for Harris.  "If I had gone to the last inauguration, I probably would have needed protection," Butterworth joked. Butterworth refused to comment when asked if he thought the state's taxpayers should pay for security provided to Harris at political events surrounding an inaugural. "I've always found security at inaugural events to be very good," Butterworth said. Butterworth said he has gone to past inaugurations, when Democrats were sworn in, and found all of the events to be "very political."

Dave Mann, the assistant secretary who serves as Harris' top assistant, says he requested help as a result of all the inflammatory rhetoric and threats that accompanied the presidential recount.  It was an extraordinary time. Television news crews from all over the world were camped on the Capitol lawn and chanting protesters frequently surrounded the building. The 36-day period ended when Bush won a U.S. Supreme Court case that gave him the White House.  In addition to providing security for Harris at home and work, FDLE agents also traveled with Harris to Washington in January and accompanied her on a six-day round of parties and meetings leading up to the Bush inauguration. Harris also asked agents to accompany her while she testified at a hearing before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Tallahassee in mid January.

And on July 15, when Harris took off for Argentina and Uruguay, agents went along to provide protection in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Harris was leading a small cultural exchange mission to the two countries at the same time Gov. Jeb Bush was leading an economic mission to Argentina and Brazil.  Harris' international travels have already drawn criticism from legislators who have appointed a special review committee to examine her expenses. Since taking office in January 1999, Harris has greatly expanded the emphasis of international relations in her office and traveled to a number of countries at state expense. Mann said he made the decision to request security for Harris because he felt there "was a clear and present danger to her safety."

Mann said he discussed the situation with the FDLE and they agreed that she could be in danger.  "Regardless of the nature of the event, the performance of her duties created a need for protection," Mann said. Harris was out of the country on personal leave this week and could not be reached for comment.  As Harris presided over Florida's close presidential race last year, she became the butt of late-night comedians and was repeatedly vilified by Democrats who accused her of helping steal the election for Bush. Thousands of Americans e-mailed her. A few threatened her.

Much of the criticism leveled at Harris came because she served as one of several co-chairs of Bush's presidential campaign in Florida. Her role in certifying Bush as the winner of last year's election drew praise from Republicans who made her the toast of the town during inaugural events.

Two FDLE agents who accompanied her to Washington billed the state $8,350 for inaugural events, an expense that was paid by the secretary of state's office account to FDLE. The tab included the hourly wages of each agent, rooms costing more than $250 a night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C., food and drink and round-trip air fare. The FDLE has submitted a bill for $14,131 for the trip to Argentina and Uruguay and expects to be reimbursed by Harris' Department of State. The largest single expense for security services for Harris was for salaries paid to the agents who provided security at her home and office in the days after the election: $24,671. When other expenses were added, the total for security at her home and office was $25,850.

"This was my call," Mann said. "Her trips received a great deal of publicity and there was an encounter with a stalker in South America."  Officials at the FDLE said the stalker was a man at an airport who continuously watched Harris as she waited for an airplane, but made no attempt to approach her. The man was not confronted by the agents traveling with her.  Last November, the FDLE investigated a threat against Harris made by a man who called her office and demanded to be on the presidential ballot. The Central Florida man was identified as a person who had made false 911 calls accusing the sheriff of one county of being a pedophile and a state attorney of drug trafficking. The man lived near Orlando, owned no vehicle and has no record of violent offenses but was seen by FDLE investigators as a possible threat to Harris when the situation was evaluated in November 2000.

Although Florida law leaves it to FDLE Director James T. "Tim" Moore to determine when security for a Cabinet member or a visiting dignitary is "in the best interest of the state," it would be all but impossible for the agency to refuse such a request since the governor and Cabinet collectively serve as his bosses.  Moore said the situation surrounding Harris was extremely unusual. He said he takes such requests very seriously and relies on advice from professional officers who assess the potential for danger. The law limits such service to events where there is a "public purpose" or where the failure to provide security would result "in a clear and present danger to the personal safety" of a person "or could result in public embarrassment to the state."

Was Moore uncomfortable providing agents at what was essentially a political event?

"The law doesn't distinguish between state business and a political event," he said.

 

08/16/01; Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris will be in Iowa next month for two Republican fund raisers, and a top state Republican official said, "She's in demand right now.  She's a high-profile Republican, and a lot of people want to meet her."

Election reform: late and underpriced?

By Nancy Cook Lauer
DEMOCRAT CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF

There is probably no more telling example of why the state needs a central voter registration database than the discovery last week that Secretary of State Katherine Harris was registered to vote in two counties. But that project - one of a list of election reforms lawmakers passed earlier this year - is in danger of not being completed in time for the 2002 elections, according to an official with the Florida Association of Court Clerks. The group was negotiating with the State Division of Elections to take over the project, but talks fell through and now the Elections Division plans to go it alone.

"We still would hope there's a possibility the deal can be put back together, but it's going to have to be done real fast," Roger Alderman, executive director of the clerks' association, said last week.

The discovery that Harris had been registered in both Leon and Sarasota counties came as part of a weeklong media inspection of four hard drives used in her offices during the 2000 presidential election. The media, including the Tallahassee Democrat, contracted with Minnesota-based Ontrack Data International to recover deleted files and other information from the hard drives.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho says the voter registration database is one of several aspects of election reform that the state simply must move forward on.

"Florida elections are going to be scrutinized to such an extent that we cannot afford to have any errors," Sancho said.

Sides split on ownership, cost

Alderman said the original plan was to begin putting the voter registration database together in July and completing it by June 1, 2002. He thinks the county clerks can do it more quickly than the Division of Elections because they already have a statewide network in place and experience in implementing similar systems, such as the statewide child support database. But Elections Division Director Clay Roberts said the Department of State has similar experience, including its "Sunbiz" Web site for corporations and a database for state business licenses, and can get a system up and running in time. Roberts bristles at a charge by Sancho that he's sandbagging the process so the division can keep the project in-house.

"There are a lot of things I need to do over the next year, and I didn't particularly need to be taking on another project," Roberts said.

Sancho doesn't share Roberts' confidence. The state maintains the obviously problematic system currently in use. It was also in charge of a contract with a company that wrongly purged qualified voters from the database, thinking they were felons ineligible to vote. The entire registration system, Sancho said, is an "unmitigated disaster."

"I am frustrated," Sancho said. "As a supervisor of elections, I have to have a database that works."

At issue between the clerks and the state, in addition to price, is ownership of the computer code for the program. Alderman said it's customary for the Association of Court Clerks to share ownership with state agencies so it can update the code as needed. Roberts says if taxpayers are paying for it, they should own it. Price became an issue when lawmakers set aside $2 million to create the database and about $500,000 a year to maintain it. But the clerks estimate it will cost $1.2 million a year because they hadn't anticipated three security and validation audits each year when they put their estimate together.

Media make discoveries

Harris' dual registration was by no means the most embarrassing information Ontrack Data exposed. Also brought to light from the 48 compact disc set containing tens of thousands of documents that reporters sifted through last week:

  • A computer assigned to Harris' then-Communications Director Donald Tighe was used for a speech Harris was supposed to give March 14, 2000, promoting George W. Bush for president. Harris maintains the document was merely e-mailed to Tighe, but Tighe said in a published interview that he worked on it on the state-owned computer.
  • Harris herself confided in a Jan. 29, 2000, speech written on her office computer that "I am a bit biased - after all I co-chair the campaign effort of George W. Bush."
  • Someone in Harris' office ran an Internet query on Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente a week after the election, looking at information about her campaign qualifications and treasurer.
  • Harris' former campaign manager Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged he was the e-mailer code-named "gopspinner" who received a message on a state computer Nov. 17 titled "Harris Speech." Harris has denied she knew who gopspinner was.
  • Harris prepared drafts of letters proclaiming Bush the winner before the recount in Palm Beach County was concluded. The recounted votes were eventually rejected.
  • A Feb. 11, 2000, document by “mgarrard,” most likely Maureen Garrard, one of Harris' aides, touts a Republican “sea change” in Tallahassee and gives thanks for support for Republican candidates.

Democrats, predictably, are outraged and are calling upon Harris to resign. But Harris, who is considering a run for Congress next year from her home District 13, has called the Democrats' statements "silly." Her current post will become an appointive office in January 2003.

State awaits approval

While Harris' partisan politicking makes news at home, justice officials in Washington are poring over the state's election reform plan to see whether it passes muster with the federal Voting Rights Act. The Department of Justice has final approval because it had found five counties - Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe - to have a history of discrimination.

The Florida Equal Voting Rights Project, a consortium of the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Florida, the Florida Institute of Justice and Florida Legal Services, has asked the Justice Department not to approve three components of the new law. The civil rights group is opposed to the posting of a voter responsibilities list at polling places, a new process of purging felons from the voter registration and a law allowing provisional ballots only if the voter is at the correct polling place.

The Justice Department is expected to make a decision before the month is out.

  • Contact Nancy Cook Lauer at nlauer@taldem.com or (850) 222-6729.

     

  • Harris voting mix-up unnoticed for months

    By Jim Ash, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
    Thursday, August 9, 2001
     

    TALLAHASSEE -- Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the state's top elections officer, was registered to vote in two different counties for nearly seven months before aides caught the error, records from her own computers show. Harris properly filled out a new Leon County voter registration form on Sept. 2, 1999, after winning office and moving to the capital. But her staff did not discover until shortly before Florida's presidential primary in March 2000 that she was still registered to vote in her home county, Sarasota.

    A Leon County election official on Wednesday blamed "human error" for a lack of communication between her office and Sarasota County. But she also said the state's flawed and much-maligned central voter file -- maintained by Harris' office -- should have flagged the mistake. "Once the secretary of state's office notified us that dual enrollment had actually occurred, the potential for embarrassment was obvious," said Janet Olin, Leon County assistant supervisor of elections. "They were pretty tense about it."

    It is not illegal to be registered to vote in two different counties, but a voter who casts more than one ballot in a single election is guilty of a third-degree felony. The law also requires voters to cast their ballots where they reside. Harris voted only in Leon County when she had the dual registration.  The slip-up surfaced in one of thousands of documents salvaged from Harris' office computers by forensic experts hired by a media consortium, including The Palm Beach Post, to investigate last year's presidential election debacle.  Released Tuesday, the documents include a deleted e-mail dated March 6, 2000. The unidentified author caught and corrected Harris' dual registration after reporters asked to accompany Harris to her Tallahassee precinct to watch her vote in the presidential primary.

    The author asked Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho to fax a notice to Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Marilyn Gerkin.  Harris can't be blamed for Sancho's failure, said her spokesman, David Host. "The law clearly puts the responsibility on the supervisor of elections, Mr. Sancho," Host said. "Their attempt to pass the buck is clearly disingenuous."  Gerkin, who has since left office, said she did not remember the incident. She said she would need to review records at her former office before commenting at length.

    "You don't remove anyone until you're notified," she said.

    Gerkin's successor, Kathy Dent, said her office has a copy of the fax sent from Leon County on March 6, 2000. Dent's records show that Harris was purged from the Sarasota rolls the next day. Supervisors are required by law to notify a voter's former elections supervisor within two weeks of an address change, although there is no penalty for failing to comply. The state is supposed to update its central voter file, which contains information on nearly 9 million voters, every three months to reflect changes of address, felony convictions and deaths.

    If a dual registration is discovered, the state is supposed to notify both election supervisors.

    However, serious flaws in the central voting list became painfully evident last year when an intense spotlight fell on Florida in the wake of the disputed presidential election. Black voters complained that they were turned away from the polls after they were improperly listed as felons. Media investigations showed that the state rolls were littered with convicted felons and deceased voters. "Anybody that had to depend on the central voter file as it existed was in serious trouble," Dent said.

    Tony Welch, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said the fact that Harris was listed on two voting rolls for so many months proves she is unqualified to do her job. "I guess they had a computer program that only purged Democrats," Welch said. "When they can't even catch a problem with the top elections officer in the state, that's just sad." Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe on Wednesday called on Harris to resign, citing media reports that revealed her office computers were used to promote George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

    Host, the Harris spokesman, said she has no intention of stepping down. Harris issued a brief response: "I am focusing my efforts on the concerns of the people of Florida. Mr. Poe is focused on divisive partisan politics." Harris, a Republican, served as co-chair of George W. Bush's Florida election campaign and maintained she kept a "fire wall" between her partisan and non-partisan roles. 

    She is eyeing a bid for Congress next year from her hometown of Sarasota, although she has not said when she will make her formal decision.

    Lawmakers this spring pledged $2 million to update the central voter file as part of sweeping election reforms. The new system is supposed to be completed by June and is supposed to have the capability of updating most address changes the same day a voter registers, said state Division of Elections Director Clay Roberts.

    Staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.

    jim_ash@pbpost.com
     

    Harris Computers Show Bush Support

    By THOMAS C. TOBIN, ALISA ULFERTS and ALICIA CALDWELL
    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 2001

    Documents renew the debate about whether she was impartial during the historic election recount.

    TALLAHASSEE -- Nine months before she refereed Florida's disputed election recount, Secretary of State Katherine Harris used her office computers to prepare political speeches about the man she fondly referred to as "W."

    "I'm a bit biased," say the remarks drafted for Harris' delivery at the GOP's winter meeting on Jan. 29, 2000, in Orlando.

    The speech in support of George W. Bush was copied from a state-owned computer in Harris' office and released Tuesday to several media outlets.

    In it, Harris notes that she was co-chair of Bush's Florida campaign, and states: "After 7 years of Democrat rule in the White House we need to send the loudest possible message that we are ready to lead!"

    That text was among thousands of documents unearthed during review by a Minneapolis company of hard drives in four computers in Harris' office. The data recovery company was hired by several media outlets, including the St. Petersburg Times, after questions arose recently about whether Harris' office deleted computer files in the controversial aftermath of the Nov. 7 election. Officials with Ontrack Data International, which conducted the media review, said Tuesday that some information had been deleted from computer hard drives in Harris' office, but that it appeared the loss occurred inadvertently when the operating systems for those computers were changed recently.

    It could not be immediately determined whether Harris actually delivered the Orlando speech. But the text, along with other partisan documents found on her computer files, have renewed the long-simmering debate about her role in the historic election. Was she the impartial arbiter that her supporters said she was -- a faithful guardian of Florida's election law? Or was she the partisan figure her critics imagined, working behind the scenes on Bush's behalf?

    The New York Times reported in July that two political consultants helped craft Harris' public statements during the intense days of Florida's recount. The New York Times report questioned whether the Republican operatives influenced how Harris told elections officials to treat overseas absentee ballots. In a statement released Tuesday, Harris said a parallel inquiry by her own data recovery expert was an unprecedented step of openness that uncovered no evidence of destroyed computer files and no partisan activity in her office "during the recount period," which lasted from Nov. 8 to December 13.

    Her spokesman, David Host, said Harris was not worried about how her pre-election remarks on behalf of Bush would be interpreted. "Her policy is no apologies, no excuses, no regrets," Host said.

    The St. Petersburg Times reviewed the computer files provided by Ontrack and found no documents indicating Harris showed favoritism during the post-election period. The only notable record from those 36 days was a schedule entitled "The Final Decision -- Crunch Week," which laid out Harris' schedule the week she certified the results of the election. The itinerary included a "wardrobing" session on Monday, a rehearsal for a press conference on Tuesday and deciding how to handle overseas ballots on Wednesday.

    Some said the secretary of state's words and deeds before Nov. 7 were just as important as those in the 36 days that followed.

    "We think there are some grounds for concern there," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause of Florida, a government watchdog group. "It's our position that if an official is in a position to make decisions involving elections -- whether they are county supervisors or at the state level -- they have a responsibility to act in a non-partisan manner. Especially in this situation, where she later was in the position of making crucial decisions."

    Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, said the state should be reimbursed by the Bush campaign.

    "We always suspected that she was moonlighting as secretary of state and was working for the Bush campaign, and now we have evidence," Poe said. "It's illegal to use state computers and state property for partisan purposes. Now we know what she was trying to hide." In the past, the state Ethics Commission has found violations of state law when public officials have privately used stationery, postage or other resources purchased at public expense, said Phil Claypool, the commission's general counsel. He added, however, that he could not comment on whether Harris' situation constituted a violation. "I don't have the facts for that," he said.

    Host, the Harris spokesman, said the political portions of Harris' speeches were drafted on private computers and sent to state computers so they could be incorporated with the non-political elements.

    "Neither of those were created in this office but they were sent to this office," Host said. He said he didn't know who drafted them.

    Indeed, the speech contains passages where Harris sticks to her non-partisan role, several times emphasizing the importance of voter turnout. But it frequently veers into the political realm, at one point saying: "I have to tell you how great it was to campaign with Jeb (Gov. Jeb Bush, George W. Bush's brother) in the snows of New Hampshire last weekend, delivering Florida oranges door to door! The camaraderie (sic) and support we all felt was so positive . . . we hardly noticed the cold. We were working together for someone we believe in and felt wonderful. I want you to have that feeling too. I hope it will be "W'."

    Other politically tinged documents in the files include a list of "talking points" written for a Harris speech on the March 14, 2000, presidential primary. On that occasion, she was scheduled to deliver remarks that were complimentary of the future president. They ended with the comment: "And that is why I so strongly support his nomination by our party and his election in November."  In a third document are undated notes for a pre-election speech to some Collier County officials. Among the points Harris wanted to make: "Exciting opportunity to change Washington" and "New millennium in Florida for Republicans."

    The records became an issue last month after the New York Times reported it had been told by Harris' office that some computer data had been erased.

    Harris hired her own computer expert, William G. Morgan of Bradenton, who on Tuesday finished his report on the state of the hard drives. Morgan is director of software development for Indigo Investment Systems. Host said Morgan's report, hundreds of pages long, shows that no public records on the computers had been destroyed. The report wasn't immediately available Tuesday evening, but Host said it would be distributed as soon as possible.

    "We feel totally vindicated," Host said.

    Harris' office has repeatedly stressed that allowing media organizations to scrutinize the hard drives was above and beyond her obligations as secretary of state. Besides, Holt has said, all public records that were on the computers in question had already been released to the media. But Holt said Tuesday he wasn't certain if the Jan. 29 and March 14 political speeches were among the paper stacks released earlier or if they surfaced only after the media groups unearthed the records themselves on the hard drives.

    "I'd have to go back and look at all the public records requests" to see if those two had been released, Host said.

    But that wasn't the main issue, he said. "At this point that's speculation. . . . All public records were released."

    - Times staff writers Barry Klein and Stephen Hegarty and researchers Deirdre Morrow and Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.
     

    Democrats say Harris should resign

    By ALISA ULFERTS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 2001

    Florida Democrats urged Secretary of State Katherine Harris to resign Wednesday, the day after media groups found Republican political documents on her office computers.

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Democrats urged Secretary of State Katherine Harris to resign Wednesday, the day after media groups found Republican political documents on her office computers.

    Democrats are especially puzzled about a query someone in Harris' office ran on Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente a week after the election. The record came off the Secretary of State Web site and notes Pariente's campaign qualifications and treasurer. "We don't know what it means but it raises questions," said Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch. One of those questions is whether it marked an early attempt to glean information about the justices who ultimately heard the cases challenging the outcome of the disputed election.

    "It makes you wonder," Welch said.

    Harris spokesman David Host said Harris didn't know who ran that query or why. The St. Petersburg Times found no indication whether that query represented official business in her office or unofficial political scrutiny. The record was one of tens of thousands of records unearthed during a review by a Minneapolis company of hard drives in Harris' office. Those records included a political speech and talking points prepared for Harris that supported then-candidate George W. Bush.

    One speech prepared for Harris said: "I am a bit biased -- after all -- I co-chair the campaign effort of George W. Bush."

    Someone, it was not immediately clear who, used Harris' computers to send e-mail under the name "gopspinner."

    All of that is enough to convince Democrats that Harris should resign. Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe accused her of illegally using her office to call November's contested election for George W. Bush. 

    "Katherine Harris has violated the public trust with the Florida voters and proven she is not capable of being an impartial Secretary of State. It's time for her to end the charade and the nightmare of her tenure and simply resign," Poe said in a statement.

    Host called the Democrats' demand "absurd." Through him, Harris said: "I am focusing my efforts on the concerns of the people of Florida. Mr. Poe has focused on divisive partisan politics." Republican Party spokesman Daryl Duwe called the Democrats' call "a real reach." "Surely they're not saying that every Democratic official who supported Gore would withstand that kind of voluntary scrutiny."

    More than a dozen media groups, including the St. Petersburg Times, hired Ontrack Data International to recover computer records after questions arose recently about whether Harris' office deleted files in the controversial aftermath of the Nov. 7 election. Harris had asked two Republican friends to help her draft public statements on state computers during the month-long recount.

    Ontrack said Tuesday that some information had been deleted from computer hard drives in Harris' office, but that it appeared the loss occurred inadvertently when the operating systems for those computers were changed recently.

    -- Times Staff Writer Alicia Caldwell and researchers Deirdre Morrow and Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.
     

    Millions for Harris' Trips Under Review

    By LUCY MORGAN
    © St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2001

    Legislators from her own party are questioning the emphasis put on overseas travel.

    TALLAHASSEE -- For her role in last year's election recount that led to a George W. Bush victory, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris has been the darling of Republicans across the nation.

    But closer to home, Harris' forays overseas are under fire from legislators from her own party.

    Buried on page 363 of the 420-page state budget is the creation of a special review committee to look at the $3.4-million Harris budgeted for international relations this year and the money spent since she took office.

    Legislative leaders are questioning the emphasis that Harris has put on international travel and in establishing relationships with other countries while failing to adequately deal with the state's election problems. The review committee is being appointed by Senate President John McKay, House Speaker Tom Feeney and Gov. Jeb Bush. The committee, with support from the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, is to review and evaluate all of her expenditures on international affairs since July 1, 1999, and produce a report.

    Earlier this year, Senate leaders quietly eliminated the money from her budget, assigning it instead to Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency. After the House refused to go along, the Senate agreed to restore the money but insisted on an investigation. The situation was not discussed in public but was handled behind the scenes with the resulting agreement deep in the state budget for 2001-2002.

    Feeney said he disagreed with the Senate and felt Harris was an able advocate to foreign countries, but some high-ranking members of the Senate disagreed.

    "I thought she was a huge advocate to the state," Feeney said Monday.

    Harris did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment. David Host, her spokesman, said Harris welcomes the examination but would not directly discuss it with the St. Petersburg Times. A spokeswoman for McKay said the Senate questioned whether two different state agencies should be delving into international relations. McKay has appointed former Sen. Bob Johnson of Sarasota and Robert Beitler, general counsel for Comptroller Bob Milligan, to serve as his representatives on the committee. 

    On Monday, Bush appointed Matilde M. Amarchand, 40, of Spring Hill, to serve on the committee. She is manager of economic development for the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Feeney has yet to make her appointments. Harris was criticized for spending too much time on international relations during last year's election crisis. She has focused much of her work since her election in 1998 on developing the office's foray into international relations. Before Harris was elected, those who held the office focused more on supervising elections and developing historical and cultural exhibitions, leaving the international relations to the old Florida Department of Commerce and Enterprise Florida once it was created in 1996.

    Harris sees her department as "truly becoming a state department" for Florida, more like the U.S. State Department. Her travels have included trips to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, Panama, Mexico and Barbados.

    Deputy Secretary of State Ben McKay compared the way Harris delves into international relations with the way the U.S. departments of State and Commerce work with each other. "They both have international issues and serve very different functions," McKay said. "The secretary of state carries out indirect economic development." Among the benefits Florida receives is her ability to monitor national trade agreements like NAFTA that work better in some states than others, McKay said.

    Budgets for the international relations have risen from $783,000 in 1999 to $3.4-million in 2000-2001 and remained the same in the current year budget. She had requested more than $5-million, but legislators would not approve the increase. She spends more than $480,000 on salaries for the division offices, which include a director, a chief of protocol and an international affairs coordinator.

    During her first 22 months in office, Harris amassed more than $106,000 in travel bills, more than any Cabinet officer and the governor. She visited eight countries on 10 foreign trips, staying at luxury hotels at taxpayer expense.

    Harris defends her international travel and the focus of her office on it in frequent speeches citing the importance of international relations to the state's economy. In a speech to the Florida League of Cities in April 2000 -- before the election -- Harris said her responsibilities include "promoting our heritage and the arts, overseeing elections, corporations, licensing, libraries and international affairs."

    "Of all those responsibilities, however, none is closer to my heart than the strengthening of our international relationships," she added.

    Last year her office established the state's first "Office of Protocol," a program designed to assist visiting dignitaries from other countries "and address international diplomacy."

     

     

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