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Katherine Harris MPA 1997, Florida's controversial secretary of state who became a national figure for her role in the presidential recount last year, faced some difficult questions Monday night, February 4, during an appearance at the Kennedy School's ARCO Forum of Public Affairs. Harris spoke about the hotly debated election, her state's economic agenda and her current bid for Congress.
Introduced by Kennedy School Executive Dean Bonnie Newman as someone whose "star has grown, especially in Florida," Harris told the audience she doesn't regret the decisions she made because she always followed the law. In fact, she said, she considers the recount a "blessing in disguise.
"Before that election, the political will to revamp our election process wasn't there," Harris said, adding that in Florida, she has made election reform her number one priority. "We're no longer the national concern, we're now the national model."
Although most of Harris's prepared speech focused on the growing economic role her state is now playing in the national and international business world, the questions posed to her during the mandatory question and answer segment that followed her talk centered heavily on the 2000 election. When pressed about the role she played as chair of the Bush presidential campaign in Florida and whether or not she should have stepped down as the state's most senior election official, Harris defended her actions and stressed that she was never biased.
"There were many urban legends and media myths during the recount, but there was no fraud," she said, adding that while she initially did have reservations when asked to chair the campaign, "I didn't get to run anything. They used my name only. There was no reason to recuse myself."
When asked what she's learned about being a public servant and what advice she'd pass along to others considering a career in government Harris stressed that "you have to do it for the right reasons." She briefly spoke about her desire to remain a public servant - as a member of Congress. The incumbent in the Sarasota-area seat, Republican Dan Miller, plans to retire when his fifth term ends this year. Harris represented Sarasota in the state Senate from 1994 until 1998, when she was elected secretary of state.
At the end of the night, Harris was asked by a Kennedy School Mid-Career student, "Who really had more votes in Florida." Her answer was brief: "According to our vote count, Bush."