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Carl Hiaasen
Thanks a lot, Ohio – we sure needed that
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Consider this a valentine from Florida to Ohio.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Thanks for the 23 nutty election lawsuits. Thanks for the absentee voting forms that made our infamous Palm Beach “butterfly ballot” look like a model of logic and simplicity.

Thanks for the disgraceful efforts to intimidate minority voters by placing partisan “observers” at the polls. And thanks for the incompetent exit pollsters who misled the rest of the nation into thinking that John Kerry might actually win.

Most of all, thank you for finally stealing the attention away from Florida.

For us, the last four years have been a purgatory of scorn, ridicule and hanging-chad jokes. The 2000 election might have been a comedy windfall for Leno and Letterman, but it’s been a public-image catastrophe for the Sunshine State.

Because of what happened here, a fellow who finished 544,683 votes behind in the popular election was named president of the United States. That left the majority of voters disgruntled, to put it mildly.

More than 51 million Americans voted for Al Gore in 2000, and most of them remained seriously ticked off at Florida, until last Tuesday night. Now they can be mad at Ohio, if they want. At least that’s what we’re hoping.

Ever since our botched election, we’ve been valiantly trying to shift the blame. It has been a futile battle – after all, our governor is a brother of the disputed victor, and the woman running our election was on the Bush-Cheney campaign team.

Still, at every opportunity we’ve reminded folks that it was ultimately five U.S. Supreme Court justices, not local hacks, who put an end to Florida’s partial nonrecounted recount and to Gore’s presidential hopes.

Likewise, we haven’t hesitated to mention the 97,488 geniuses who wasted their votes on flaky Ralph Nader. If only 538 of them had gone for Gore, he instead of George W. Bush would’ve been packing for the White House.

And on the subject of the former vice president, we’ve never been too polite to point out that if he’d managed to win his home state of Tennessee – and was that really so much to ask? – the Florida vote wouldn’t have mattered in the outcome.

These arguments have found only a meager audience, however. Florida has never been completely forgiven for the debacle of 2000.

The veil of guilt has only grown heavier as time has passed, and the news has worsened. In 2001, the revelation that many of the 9/11 hijackers had lived and trained here seemed to solidify the state’s image as a bastion of lawless weirdness and dark conspiracies.

In fact, everything bad that’s happened on Bush’s watch has been implicitly laid on our doorstep, from the exploding deficit to the jobs shortage to the bloody, pointless quagmire in Iraq.

The nation would be headed in a better direction, the reasoning goes, if it weren’t for what happened in Florida.

But this time around, the story was different. The fate of the republic did not dangle precariously from a Florida chad. This time, it all came down to Ohio.

As this is being written, election officials in the Buckeye State dutifully are counting about 150,000 provisional ballots. Kerry would need 90 percent of those to overtake the president, capture the state’s 20 electoral votes and upend the election.

Kerry already did the math and threw in the towel, which means that the contest is finished in all but formality.

This time, Bush won the national vote as well as the electoral vote, which is good for Florida. It means that the blame must be spread far more democratically, if the war and the deficit continue to worsen.

History will show that Ohio’s vote uncertainty lasted barely 12 hours. Back in 2000, Florida put the country through 36 grueling and surreal days of limbo.

As for our own fair state, this year it went for Bush by a robust margin of nearly 378,000 votes. Even those who didn’t like the result seemed quietly relieved by the lack of suspense.

At least we were off the hook, out of the spotlight.

Because it was Ohio, not Florida, where the presidency would be won or lost, it was Ohio that the whole world would be watching on election night.

And so it is Ohio that must bear the burden, and the abuse, for the next four years.

It’s only fair.

Carl Hiaasen can be contacted by e-mail at HeraldEd@aol.com.
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