Profile: Jenny Backus
Jenny Backus was a participant or observer in the following events:
A photograph of the Republican operatives mobbing the Miami-Dade elections offices. Those identified in the photograph include Thomas Pyle, Garry Malphrus, Rory Cooper, Kevin Smith, Steven Brady, Matt Schlapp, Roger Morse, Duane Gibson, Chuck Royal, and Layna McConkey. [Source: Pensito Review]Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. [Guardian, 11/23/2000; Guardian, 11/25/2000]
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” [Guardian, 11/25/2000] Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” [Consortium News, 11/27/2000; Consortium News, 8/5/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. [Consortium News, 11/24/2000; Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010] Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. [Tapper, 3/2001]
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. [Consortium News, 11/24/2000; Washington Post, 11/27/2000; Village Voice, 12/19/2000; Consortium News, 8/5/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]
Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Tom DeLay, Charles Royal, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Stone, Robert Parry, Richard Pombo, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Wayne Newton, William Daley, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Brad Blakeman, Brendan Quinn, CNN, Carrie Meek, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Michael (“Bill”) Daley, County of Broward (Florida), Michael Murphy, Thomas Pyle, Matt Schlapp, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, David Leahy, Democratic National Committee, Doug Heye, Florida Supreme Court, Mayco Villafena, George W. Bush, Garry Malphrus, James A. Baker, Jake Tapper, Jim DeMint, Kevin Smith, Luis Rosero, Marc Racicot, Jenny Backus, Joseph Lieberman, Joe Geller, Joe Fraga, Joel Kaplan, John J. Sweeney
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties
The Bush campaign seeks stays in the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court regarding the acceptance of 43,852 “undervote” recounts in Florida counties. Most importantly, the Bush campaign also asks the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which would declare its candidate the winner of the Florida presidential election. Both the Florida Supreme Court and Eleventh Appeals Court refuse to issue the stay. Most observers believe that if the recounts are completed and their vote totals tabulated, Democrat Al Gore will win enough votes to win Florida, and thusly become president. Currently Republican George W. Bush has a mere 193-vote lead (see December 7-8, 2000), and recount totals from Miami-Dade County alone are expected to give Gore more than this amount. One example of the problematic situation in Florida is with Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, where claims of massive African-American disenfranchsement and discrimination (see November 7, 2000) have already tainted the balloting. Duval has 4,967 undervotes, but they are mixed in with 291,000 others, all stored in boxes in a vault. The all-Republican electoral board, as seen on national television, has begun examining ballots, but as The Guardian observes, “with such painstaking reluctance to proceed, it amounted to an effective filibuster.” Democratic spokeswoman Jenny Backus tells reporters, “What we’ve heard is that they’re going to try to slow this down by every means they can.” However, the US Supreme Court issues the requested stay and the undervote tabulation stops. The Court does not issue the requested writ of certiorari. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/8/2000 ; Supreme Court of the United States, 12/9/2000 ; Guardian, 12/10/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The divide among the nine US Supreme Court justices is plain. The five conservative justices, led by Antonin Scalia, have since December 4 been circulating memos among themselves and their clerks, bouncing various arguments off one another in what the liberal justices’ clerks feel is an attempt to audition and solidify their arguments in favor of overturning the Florida high court’s decision and giving the presidency to Bush. The four liberal justices, led by John Paul Stevens, have long felt that the Court had no business being involved in the issue, that it was instead up to the Florida judiciary and legislature to settle the matter. Stevens, writing the anticipated dissent for the minority, has to ask the majority for more time to complete his dissent, so eager are they to issue their ruling. When Scalia sees in Stevens’s dissent the line that says, “counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm”—a direct rebuke to Scalia’s earlier argument that the Florida recounts would do “irreparable harm” to a Bush presidency—Scalia inadvertently delays the proceedings to write his own angry rejoinder, which reads in part, “Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” Scalia’s nakedly partisan stance discomfits even some of the other conservative justices’ clerks and angers the liberal clerks. “The Court had worked hard to claim a moral high ground, but at that moment he pissed it away,” one later recalls. “And there was a certain amount of glee. He’d made our case for us to the public about how crassly partisan the whole thing was.” After Scalia finishes his rejoinder, the Court issues its stay, stopping all further recounts. Gore himself, unaware of the arguments and partisanship dividing the Court, still holds out hope that one of the conservatives—O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy, perhaps (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000))—can be reached. “Please be sure that no one trashes the Court,” he admonishes his staffers. Gore decides to have campaign lawyer David Boies instead of Laurence Tribe argue the campaign’s case in the upcoming arguments, perhaps hoping that Boies, more moderate than the outspokenly liberal Tribe, might win some support from either Kennedy or O’Connor. Boies has also been representing Gore in Florida, and can presumably reassure the justices of the fundamental fairness of what is happening there. The liberal clerks have no such illusions. What hopes they have now are pinned on the press. One has heard a rumor that the Wall Street Journal is preparing to publish a story reporting that O’Connor had been overheard at a dinner party expressing her opposition to a Gore presidency; that report, the clerks hope, might force O’Connor to recuse herself from the decision and tie the court at 4-4. However, O’Connor has no such intention. Gore’s lawyers, aware of O’Connor’s statements, consider asking her to recuse herself, but decide instead to restrain themselves in hopes that she will, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “now lean toward them to prove her fairness.” [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]
Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Wall Street Journal, County of Duval (Florida), Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, The Guardian, John Paul Stevens, Laurence Tribe, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, Florida Supreme Court, Jenny Backus, Antonin Scalia, David Boies
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.