TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In recent weeks, Secretary of State Glenda Hood (search) has found herself defending a slew of lawsuits over Florida's election process, accused of trying to slant the presidential race in Republicans' favor and facing comparisons to her predecessor, Katherine Harris (search).
The difference between Hood and Harris, however, is that no one gave Harris much thought until George W. Bush (search) clung to a thin lead in the 2000 election.
Despite recent scrutiny, Hood maintains a smile as people around the country say she's acting on the side of politics instead of the voter. The former Orlando mayor isn't focusing on criticism, instead saying she is only trying to do her job and remain nonpartisan.
"I know anything said is about the position and it's not about me as a person. That's very important," Hood said. "I see a lot of division and I see a lot of anger out there in the country. I think that's very unfortunate."
There's no doubt that whomever filled the secretary of state position would be viewed with a suspicious eye after 2000. During the 36-day recount, Harris was accused of taking a partisan role in a contentious election Bush won by 537 votes.
Harris, co-chair of Bush's presidential campaign in Florida, was criticized for certifying him as the winner while then-Vice President Al Gore sought recounts.
"I said from day one that I would not be involved in any political campaigns or partisan politics," Hood said. "I've stayed true to my word. That was very difficult back in 2000 when people were involved in different campaigns. Statements were made and perceptions were built as a result."
Still, Democrats say Hood cannot be nonpartisan — she is a Republican appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother.
In 2002, Hood became the first person named secretary of state after Florida voters changed the constitution, making it an appointed seat instead of an elected cabinet position.
But, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox contends "her name has become synonymous with unfairness."
"It's unfortunate that she has acted in an extremely partisan manner and I lay the blame at the feet of Jeb Bush because I think she's following his orders," Maddox said citing a litany of offenses:
— Her office fought a lawsuit Democrats had filed to keep Ralph Nader off the Nov. 2 ballot. Democrats, who blame Nader for Gore's defeat in 2000, eventually lost their case.
— Hood refused to allow Democrats to name a replacement for a congressional candidate facing incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw. Hood said Jim Stork, who stopped campaigning due to a heart condition, missed a deadline to withdraw. A judge later said she was wrong.
— Hood recommended voter registration forms that did not have a citizenship box checked be rejected. Many of the incomplete forms were turned in by groups registering minority voters, who tend to support Democrats. So far, Hood has successfully fought lawsuits challenging her decision.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Carol Jean Jordan questioned criticisms aimed at Hood.
"She was not what I call a political person. She was not an activist in the Republican party," Jordan said. "She attended events when we asked, but she wasn't what I call a grassroots Republican activist."
Orange County party chairman Lew Oliver agreed.
"The general feeling was that apart for the gubernatorial and presidential election campaigns, Glenda was very nonpartisan," Oliver said. "It is impossible to find any identifiable policies during her time in office that a reasonable person would find to be partisan."