FL shaped presidential history 20 years ago, and the memories remain as voters go to the polls Tuesday

Media and the public outside the Florida Supreme Court Building before December 7, 2000, oral arguments. Credit: Photo gallery, Election 2000 Memory Project.

Twenty years ago, justices, court staff, attorneys, journalists, and onlookers were caught up in the drama and litigation over the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

This month is the 20th anniversary of Bush v. Gore, and on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court released what’s called the “Election 2000 Memory Project, Bush v. Gore 20 years later.” It’s a collection of memories about the events designed to preserve history for future researchers and historians.

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Credit: Wikipedia.

By now, the world should know that George W. Bush became the 43rd president — not Albert Gore. Jr.

The release of the memory project comes as voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

“As part of its mission to preserve Florida Supreme Court history, the archives of the Florida Supreme Court Library in cooperation with the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society earlier this year invited people involved in Florida’s 2000 presidential election disputes to send in their own written memories for preservation,” according to a Supreme Court press release.

“The submission — told in the authors’ own words about their own personal experiences — include not only the memories of judges and court staff, but also of journalists, attorneys, and others caught up in events that helped shape history in Florida, in the nation, and around the world.

“These viewpoints obviously do not reflect the official views of the state courts, but are the subjective experience of individuals who watched history unfold here in Florida,” the press release says.

A photo gallery is included in the project as well.

Here are some excerpts of the submissions:

FL Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding. Credit: Election 2000 Memory Project.

Justice Major B. Harding: “As I went to my home mailbox one morning a neighbor came up to me and said, ‘I guess you will get to be the one to determine our next president.’  That was a shock, but, yes, it was the beginning of some memorable events.”

Justice Harding was the 74th Justice of the Court and was well known for always wearing bow ties. He served from 1991-2002.

Julie Hauserman, then a capital bureau reporter for the then-St. Petersburg Times (and a former editor of the Phoenix): “While lots of reporters parachuted in from all over the world, this was a story happening on our turf. It was helpful that we had sources all over town, from caterers who would tell us who was holding meetings where, to staffers in state agencies and local elections offices who would offer news tips.

“I had a three-year-old daughter at the time and her dad was deeply involved with the legal side of the election, so life was pretty insane with both of us dealing with a national crisis that lasted day and all night. Neither of us could ‘opt out.’

“I am incredibly grateful to our babysitter at the time and to our preschool. When her dad took her to work, she was dubbed The Recount Baby and the legal team enjoyed entertaining her as a distraction from their grave national work.”

Eric Buermann, general counsel, Republican Party of Florida and Bush/Cheney Florida campaign: “A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE … James Baker had been dispatched to Tallahassee to be the public spokesperson for the Bush/Cheney campaign during the recount. He was staying at the DoubleTree Hotel on South Adams Street, just a few blocks away from East Jefferson Street, where he was ensconced at our party headquarters.

“Mr. Baker had served as White House chief of staff and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, and as U.S. Secretary of State and White House chief of staff under President George H. W. Bush. I’m certain he had many unusual and bizarre experiences in those roles, but perhaps never had he been thrown out of a hotel.

“One day in mid-November, at the height of the recount, a young party staffer, out of breath, came running up to me as I sat working in our party headquarters. He said  ‘Mr. Buermann, you’ve got to help us right away … the DoubleTree has thrown Secretary Baker out of his hotel room.’ Whether this was literal or figurative, I was sure there had to be some mistake.

“I walked over to the DoubleTree and with much determination reached the hotel manager who told me that indeed Mr. Baker had to leave the hotel immediately. He explained the FSU-Florida football game was going to be played in Tallahassee shortly, and the football fans had long-standing reservations, filling the rooms.

“I exclaimed incredulously, ‘Good gracious, man, do you not know who Mr. Baker is? We are here trying to determine the next leader of the Free World (pointing to the sea of satellite trucks out the window), and you’re kicking the former Secretary of State out of your hotel?’

“Alas, all my appeals went for naught, and Secretary Baker did indeed have to yield his hotel room to a far more important football fan. I learned from that that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that happens in Tallahassee that’s more important than the FSU-Florida game! Fortunately, we found someone who had an available condominium for the Secretary to use — and the rest is history.”

You can look at other memories on the 2000 memory project webpage.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.