Q: Yours seems to be a rise, fall and redemption story. Your political rise seems to have coincided with your admission to the bar, and in short order you became a pretty powerful guy. How did you rise so far, so fast?
A: Being involved in the political process was key. I ran campaigns dating back to my early 20s and it gave me a breadth of exposure and experience. Once I obtained my license to practice law, the world seemed to take me more seriously and people seemed to put more credence in the things I was doing.
Q: Your rise in Congress was meteoric and you garnered some substantial committee and subcommittee assignments. Why you?
A: I had worked tirelessly when I went to Congress. I had been [state] labor commissioner. I had negotiated contracts and settlements. I knew the fine art of negotiation. I knew that success requires some give and take. I had been deputy chief of staff to the governor. I had worked in all facets of public policy and I had worked in politics. Plus, I had the experience of being an attorney and having gone through the discipline of law school and practicing for a little while. When I got to D.C., I listened a lot, and I learned. I was able to hit the ground running.
Q: You attracted the attention of then presidential candidate George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount when you organized the so-called 'Brooks Brothers' protest in Miami. What was your role in that event?
A. I was very apprehensive about getting involved in that process. Don Evans, who had been commerce secretary during the [first president] Bush administration, called me and asked me to go down. I told him I wasn't an operative any more, but an elected official. He told me they just wanted me to go down and observe and give them some honest evaluation. So I packed for a two day stay, and stayed for two weeks.
It was pretty obvious that the Bush team had not anticipated this and had limited experience in putting together the kind of mechanism you need to make sure you are represented and protected. After a couple of days, I said to Don Evans, 'You are going to have one of the best documented defeats in the history of mankind because you are spinning your wheels and you are going to get run over here and bullied because the commissioners in Miami-Dade are, in my opinion, biased and are trying to ram through votes that were not being closely scrutinized.'
So he asked me to take over and, reluctantly, I did. It led to the 'Brooks Brother's Rally,' as you call it, but what people don't remember is that there was a lot of counting going on outside public view and public scrutiny.
We started some legal and public relations processes to draw the light of day on it. We were simply saying, 'You have to do this in public and we need to have an opportunity to preserve the record so we can litigate it in the courts where we would, hopefully, get a more objective view.'
It was a bittersweet experience. It is not the thing I would want to most be remembered for, but given the same set of circumstances I'd do it again because it was about fairness.