Katherine Harris

Florida's secretary of state and co-chairwoman of George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida
Born: April 5, 1957
Birthplace: Key West, Fla.

Katherine Harris undoubtedly played a pivotal role in determining the winner of the 2000 presidential election. But she was not always a prominent political player. In fact, her career in public office began in 1994, when she unseated the Democratic incumbent state senator. The race, one of Florida's most expensive for a state office, was tainted by scandal. Harris received more than $20,000 from Riscorp, a Florida-based insurance company. Prosecutors charged that the funds were illegally "bundled" by executives of the company, meaning the contributions were made through employees of the company in order to skirt campaign finance laws. Harris ultimately returned the money, and said in a 1997 interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “In hindsight, I wish I had been more aware of how much money they were giving me.” Harris was never charged, but William D. Griffin, the founder of Riscorp, was and pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy.

In 1998, Harris ousted incumbent Secretary of State Sandra Mortham. She was widely praised for luring investment and foreign business to Florida. In 2002, she successfully gained a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Harris is a fourth-generation Floridian who hails from a prominent family. Her grandfather, cattle and citrus mogul Ben Hill Griffin, also served in the Florida legislature. She graduated from Agnes Scott College and earned a master's degree from Harvard University. Before delving into politics, Harris, the mother of a teenager, was a commercial real estate broker.


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