The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fla's elections chief not nearly as interesting as Katherine Harris

5

November

denz_246794a.jpgIf past is prologue and 2000 is doomed to somehow repeat itself Tuesday, the role of Secretary of State Katherine Harris will be played by a former beer lobbyist named Ken Detzner.

But where Harris came to symbolize the partisanship in the 2000 race — serving as George W. Bush's state campaign chair before presiding over the recount — Detzner, 60, benefits both from changes to Florida's election laws and a different, more muted demeanor.

"We're not going to have a Katherine Harris problem," says Guy Spearman, a lobbyist and longtime friend of Detzner.

"Unlike Katherine, who was arrogant, he's exceedingly politically astute from having worked in Tallahassee so long," Spearman said. "We're hearing all the time that it's us and Ohio who will decide this, us and Ohio, so there's no doubt, Ken's got a tough job ahead of him. But he's up to it."

Detzner's job in some ways is less than important than it was 12 years ago.

The position of Secretary of State is no longer an elected position — thanks to a change in the state Constitution — and has far less leeway to make binding decisions that can swing an election. Detzner now defers to Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed him to the $140,000 post earlier this year.

In addition, Detzner is lauded by those who know him for not being like Harris, as someone who prefers to blend into the background.

Still, the position by its nature invites criticism.

Voting rights groups in recent months have clashed with Detzner's office, particularly over the state's moves to purge non-U.S. citizens from the rolls and restrict early voting.

"He's not as flashy as Katherine Harris," said Rebecca Wakefield, spokeswoman for the Education Fund, a group that aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups.

"But style aside, he's the good soldier sort. There's no question that government should do everything possible to improve access to voting, and that's exactly what Florida has not done since 2008," Wakefield said. "It's very clear what's happening, and he's a part of it."

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[Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 6:08pm]

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