Foley Helped Bush Disenfranchise Florida Black Voters

When told about the sex antics of flamed out GOP star Mark Foley, a flushed and indignant President Bush professed shock and disgust to reporters in Stockton, California. Bush's shock and disgust was undoubtedly heartfelt given the magnitude of the sleaze and the mortal election year danger it posed to House Republican leadership, and Republican candidates. But Bush was anything but indignant six years ago at Foley, and for good reason. Foley played a pivotal role in sealing Bush's much-disputed snatch of the White House. He helped shove thousands of dubious votes into the Bush column in his home district of Palm Beach County, Florida. And he enraged thousands of Democratic leaning black, Jewish, and elderly voters by passionately and publicly defending the manipulation, exclusion, and possible outright fraud of their votes.

A week after the election, with the air thick with lawsuits, court challenges, and accusations by Democrats of voter fraud, Foley took to the airwaves and delivered the Republicans weekly radio address. He flatly demanded that wrangling over the vote count should end. By then national attention and court challenges, focused to the faulty ballot design and the vote count in Palm Beach County.

Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan had gotten nearly three thousand votes there. That was three times greater than the total that he received in any other Florida county, and made up 20 percent of his total for the entire state. That stretched the bound of political reality past the outer limit.

Though Foley had won easy election victories in his district, Palm Beach County with its mostly Democratic top-heavy number of Jewish, and black voters was considered a near lock for Gore.

Buchanan's borderline race baiting, anti-Semitic tinged barbs were well known, and roundly despised. The several thousand votes that he got even stunned him. He publicly quipped that the votes weren't his and probably should have gone to Gore. But they didn't, and Foley helped see to that. He quickly brushed aside any notion of vote hanky panky and branded the claim that voters were hoodwinked to vote for Buchanan as nonsensical. Foley didn't stop there. He publicly defied Gore to prove that there was anything to the complaints of thousands of elderly black voters who almost certainly intended to vote for Gore, but because of the ballot hieroglyphic had their votes miscounted.

Foley well knew that even the smallest change in the vote totals would affect the outcome of the race. A manual recount would have been a disaster for Bush especially if the deeply suspect Buchanan votes were tossed.

During the days the debate raged over the vote, Foley launched a one-man spin crusade against the Democrats. He blamed outside agitators and "political operatives" for interfering in Florida's vote. He claimed that any suggestion that the vote was unfair insulted his constituents. He downplayed the significance of the vote for Buchanan, and at the same time defended it by implying that there was a stealth core of Reform Party backers in the County.

He demanded an end to the lawsuits, and appeals, and implored the Secretary of State to officially certify the vote. The rest of course is history. Thanks to a pro Bush U.S. Supreme Court decision that specifically tossed the Gore camp's flagship lawsuit against the Palm Beach registrars, the disputed votes were never recounted, and the controversial ballots weren't voided. And Bush got his wafer thin 537-vote victory in Florida, and the White House.

Bush paid a huge price for the victory that Foley helped stage-manage. Florida became the eternal symbol of black voter disgust and disfranchisement. That imprinted the indelible image of the Republicans as corrupt, mean-spirited, anti-civil rights, and racially insensitive. The Florida vote hopelessly alienated civil rights leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, and thousands of black voters. They have waged relentless political warfare against Bush since then. Meanwhile, Foley's tight toe of the Bush legislative policy line in the House has earned him bottom grades from the NAACP on civil rights, labor and economic issues. He got an F grade on the NAACP's 2006 Civil Rights Legislative Report Card.

Foley was amply rewarded for his tireless service to Bush's dubious Florida win. He got a plum spot on the House Ways and Means Committee, and worked as right hand man to the equally disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay. The corporate and Republican National Committee money spigot flowed in torrents for his Congressional re-election campaigns and an aborted Senate run.
Though Bush never publicly back patted Foley for helping deliver Florida and the White House to him, he didn't have to. GOP leaders showed their gratitude for his singular service to Bush's election by showering favors on him, up to and including their see-no-evil; hear no evil denial of his sexual hijinks. So far, they've still professed no disgust at that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and The GOP's court of black voters.