Suspended elections chief Susan Bucher resigns rather than take fight to GOP-controlled Senate

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Steve Bousquet

Published February 5, 2019


Susan Bucher resigned Monday as Palm Beach County's suspended supervisor of elections, claiming she was a victim of "political agendas" and that as a former Democratic legislator she could never get a fair hearing in a Republican-controlled state Senate.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Bucher from office on Jan. 18, accusing the veteran elections official of incompetence. DeSantis' suspension order was based largely on a highly detailed three-page summary compiled by former Secretary of State Michael Ertel, who cited "trust in our elections" as a hallmark of the republic.

Ertel, who accused Bucher of "combative incompetence," himself abruptly left office last Thursday after photos surfaced showing him dressed in blackface and wearing a T-shirt that said "Katrina victim" at a 2005 Halloween party. Ertel, a former supervisor of elections in Seminole County in suburban Orlando, confirmed that the photos were of him and he immediately resigned.

Under Florida law, the governor can suspend an elected official for "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence or permanent inability to perform official duties."

A suspended official has a right to a trial before the Florida Senate, a 40-member body that has the sole authority to permanently remove an official from public office.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Bucher on Jan. 18, saying she failed to meet deadlines during recounts after November's election.

Bucher issued a statement late Monday afternoon in which she said she reviewed her legal options with attorney Leonard Feuer and that her fate would have been determined by a "handpicked" Senate committee with attorneys for DeSantis acting as prosecutors.

"This is my only option for due process," Bucher said. "The law does not provide for guidelines or rules. Prior to my service as your supervisor, I was a very vocal member of the House minority party in Tallahassee. As such, I do not believe I can receive a fair hearing before a very partisan Senate."

In a text message, she declined to elaborate. "No further comment," she said.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who served with Bucher in the Florida House, issued a statement in which he said he took "strong exception" to her claim that she could not get a fair hearing in the Senate.

"I have and will continue to make every effort to ensure fair, unbiased due process for all involved with this important constitutional responsibility of the Florida Senate," said Galvano, an attorney.

The Florida Senate is comprised of 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats, which would have made it extremely difficult for Bucher to reverse her suspension.

Bucher’s retreat is a political victory for DeSantis, a Republican who narrowly won office in November but has set an aggressive tone of impatience with what he sees as ineptitude by elected officials.

DeSantis' executive order suspending Bucher from office accused her of violating state law in the 2018 election, including failing to accurately report the number of ballots cast and failing to properly conduct recounts in three statewide races.

The order criticized Bucher for stationing a polling place inside a gated community; missing election reporting deadlines; failing to submit improperly completed ballots to the county canvassing board; preventing news outlets from reviewing recounts; altering ballot tabulation machines; and failing to provide a complete report that included all election-related problems.

"Supervisor Bucher has failed in her duties as Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections," DeSantis' order said. "Her failures tarnished the state of Florida and cause people to question the ability to properly run elections."

Bucher was the third elected constitutional officer to be suspended from office by DeSantis in his first two weeks in office

The others are Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and Mary Beth Jackson, the elected superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County in the Florida Panhandle.

In her statement, Bucher said: "The laws and our Constitution need to be changed. Florida elected officials should not be afraid to express their views and stand strong for their constituents without fear of being removed from office through fabricated allegations which would not stand up in a court of law. There should be minimum standards for removal of elected officials by a Governor so that political agendas are not the only reason."

"The political atmosphere in this state and in our country has changed so much that I no longer wish to be associated with these elected officials," Bucher said in her statement. "At this time, I believe my time is better spent as a concerned and involved citizen of our community."

Bucher no doubt was aware of Florida political history. In 2005, the Senate voted 32 to 7 to permanently remove former Broward County Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant from office for "grave and frequent neglect" that included a budget deficit and failing to open polling places on time, news reports said. Oliphant had been suspended from office by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003.