LeRoy Collins Commentary 17

Commentary #17
7 December 2006

Thoughts on Pearl Harbor Day

Larry, you asked my comments re 7 DEC. Two come to mind, and they are somewhat related:

First, I am old enough to remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. I was in the Second Grade of Sealey elementary school in Tallahassee. Miss Kirby was my teacher, and in those days we walked to school - just nine blocks away - with the School Boy Patrol (our Sixth Grade leaders) protecting the major intersections. My Dad's announcement of the War on Monday morning prompted me to ask if I would be safe walking to school that morning. While he assured me I need not worry about being shot or bombed, I recall believing I need not worry principally because the School Boy Patrol would ensure my safety enroute, and our school teachers would take care of the rest. They always did.

As the War lengthened, Hollywood produced patriotic films and the comic book writers came out with True Comics and Real Heroes, where we learned about the heroic exploits of Colin Kelley, Eddie Rickenbacker, the partisans in Yugloslavia led by Tito, the Norwegian citizens who hid the nation's gold from the Nazis, and the epic struggles in the jungles of Guadalcanal. Next came blackout drills at home, the draft callup of young men in our neighborhood, scrap steel drives, war bond promotions (from my $.25 weekly allowance, .10 bought a defense stamp, .05 went to church, and I retained .10 for a new copy of True comics or Real Heroes), and the conversion of Tallahassee's small airport to a robust training base for young men from all over the world learning to fly the P-39 Aircobra fighter plane, and later the P-47 Thunderbolt. We did not ride far in the car, because gasoline was rationed (5 gallons per week) along with food and clothing (No sugar nor nylon stockings, very little meat). My grandmother and her friends hand-knitted black and olive drab sweaters and scarfs for our sailors and ground troops using wool yarn furnished by the Government. Letters home from the troops was heavily censored for strategic info, and were written on V-mail stationery, which was a standard size and combined the one-piece stationery sheet and fold-up envelope...and free postage. All homes contributing members of the Armed forces proudly displayed in the front window a red-bordered rectangular poster with the number of blue stars in the center corresponding to the number of military members contributed by that household. My grandmother had three stars in hers representing my dad and two of his brothers. Each night, our radios were tuned to Gabriel Heater and/or Edward R. Murrow to hear the latest war stories. The afternoon newspaper showed us where the front lines were in Europe and Asia. So,the whole Nation, and most of the WORLD were involved in this epic conflict now labeled as World War II. It took on the excitement of a contentious football season at home, and we were sleeping safely each night. When my mother, two sisters and I accompanied my father to New Jersey, California, and Seattle for his Navy training and duty during 1944-46, that experience proved to be enlightening to the rest of our lives, and even defined a military career for a major portion of my adult life. This adventure started on 7 DEC 1941.

So, 7 DEC has always been significant to me, because of the array of personal experiences it spawned in my family's life (the military taught my Dad to speak some Japanese and Chinese, which he used around the house to our delight). But this cardinal date took on additional meaning in the year 2000, during the famous Florida recount in the Presidential election of that year....

Like most concerned citizens, I felt this election was about to be hijacked by the teams of attorneys invading Florida in behalf of both political parties. The famous "hanging chads" were changing the vote totals each time these fragile voter records were handled. Huge suspicions were arising in the large counties based upon the party affiliation of members of the respective canvassing boards conducting the recounts. The Florida Supreme Court seemed unable to rise above parochial biases to evidence wise disposal of this most fundamental of democratic issues. We were acting like a corrupt Banana Republic with the whole world watching us flail around on satellite TV. My conscience kept saying to me, you do not have to be an elected or appointed official to be involved; YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN; DO NOT JUST SIT THERE!

On top of that, in came an incredulous e-mail from my friend in Maryland, Sam Ginder, who was basically asking why can't you Floridians get this election resolved? It was Florida's duty to clear the National electoral logjam and decide who our next President of the United States would be. The vote would be deadlocked until then. This vote recount was the Devil's workshop if there ever was one. I decided I could be most effective as an advocate for consistency in handling the military votes coming in from overseas by absentee ballots.

Military absentee ballots are free mail requiring no postmark, and Florida law allows 10 days after the election for such votes to be counted, provided we know such votes came from overseas, and those votes were cast no later than Election Day. Already you can surmise some climate for confusion, i.e. how do we know the vote was mailed no later than Election Day, without a postmark?....and how do we know the voter was indeed overseas? A postmark on free mail is not needed to cancel postage, and is rarely applied in the rush of handling U.S. Mail under intense operational time pressures with our deployed military. I decided to try and sanitize this infected process, i.e. find out for myself, just as any concerned U.S. Citizen, this one being a voter who happened to have retired from the U.S. Navy a full decade ago.

Concurrent with my concern was that of my friend of many years, fellow Floridian, and recipient of the Nation's highest military honor from Vietnam combat, the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH), Lieutenant Colonel Ron Ray, U.S. Army (Retired). Ron lived in St. Petersburg and needed no stimuli from me to get moving. Being fearless, was already "mobilized" on this voting recount for the same reasons as I was; he needed no guidance from me. In fact, I got guidance from him. But he could behave differently; he got dressed as he normally would, put that CMOH around his neck, and made a bee-line to the Supervisor of Election's office, first in Pinellas, then in Manatee County, and he got through the crowd to speak DIRECTLY with the Supervisor, and express his insistence upon inclusion of the military absentee votes. What a hero.

My approach was less visible, less dramatic, and probably less effective. I started with an appointment with my local Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections, Pam Iorio (Tampa's current Mayor). Pam explained that she insisted upon the postmark on each ballot cast because that was the only way she could verify the vote was cast no later than Election Day. Even then she was not certain that the vote came from overseas to justify being counted as much as 10 days late, as justified by the law. That was her prerogative as a constitutional officer elected in her own right. I was disappointed in that conclusion, but that was her reading of the law, and she knew it integral to her job.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to go visit the Honorable Pat Holleran, Supervisor in Okaloosa County, the Florida County with the highest percentage of military voters. Pat was an Air Force wife, and as I found out just beforehand, had been one of a very few counties in the USA selected to try a pilot Internet voting scheme for General Election 2000. She had already been badgered by various recount teams, plus the New York Times, and she was in no mood to waste her time with some turkey from out-of-town without a legitimate "need to know." She was ready, so I knew I had better make sense to this seasoned veteran of many elections in the distant past; she had undergone some very aggressive questioning in the immediate past few weeks from Party lawyers and the media.

She greeted me on time and it was clear she wanted to get to business right away. From the outset it became clear this was no ordinary grandmother, nor an ordinary public servant. She knew her election law, and everything she said was worthy of my notetaking:

First of all, she did not care about the postmark. She KNEW the military voters who were deployed, and she would accept their ballots so long as they got to her office within the 10 days allowed by law. Yes, it was possible they filed their ballots late, but not likely. While her interpretation was more liberal than Pam Iorio, Pat's electorate was much smaller, and she knew them better. She even showed me the ballots she denied, and why she denied them. She explained how the Internet voting worked, that it had been functionally successful, but it was a very expensive test per voters served, and that I should have this same discussion with her counterpart in Orange County for perhaps a different take on Internet voting. Pat Holleran was the oracle I had been seeking; what an impressive and competent elected official.

Taking her advice, my next stop was the Supervisor's office in Orange, just south of Orlando. The Supervisor, himself was out of town, so I met with his deputy. Here again, I got wonderful cooperation, but even a third version of handling the military absentee ballots. In the aftermath, it appears all Supervisors were making interpretations within the law, albeit quite different among themselves. By this time we were approaching a month since the General Election, and we STILL did not know who the new President of the United States would be. I decided to seek an audience with the certifying officer of all elections in Florida, the Secretary of State. My objective there would be to ask her to issue a memorandum ASAP, which would standardize the military absentee voting tabulation in time for this election, and hereafter. The Secretary (through a staff intermediary) set my appointment for the morning of 7 DECEMBER 2000!

I was ushered into Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' office in the State Capitol on "Pearl Harbor Day" with no fanfare, with one of her senior staffers sitting in with us, and there began a discussion of my travels working this issue. I appealed to her to issue a memorandum I proposed for uniformity in counting the absentee ballots. She listened very intently, and graciously allowed me to say whatever I wanted, then...she explained she did not have the authority to do what I suggested, and that as we were speaking, and just across the street to the west, the Florida Supreme Court was hearing arguments re progress of the Statewide recount. Secretary Harris gave me every opportunity to state my case, but it was clear the principal arguments were taking place across the street. I left not satisfied with my findings, but fully satisfied with my opportunity to speak with the State's election certifying authority.

After 45 minutes with the Secretary of State, I walked westward through the Capitol building, out the west entrance and beheld a mass of television trucks from all networks, cable channels, and the larger stations, with antennas aimed skyward, and cables snaking everywhere. The first truck I came to was from Denver, with its technician enjoying the Florida sun in a far milder climate than in Denver on this Pearl Harbor Day.

I had not been outside more than 20 minutes when the Supreme Court broke for lunch and the talking heads made a dash for the high-profile litigants of the day for timely interviews. While it was somehat exciting to watch, as an event of public interest, I remember walking home to my Mother's house thinking how much action I saw, with so little accomplished. A few days later, and apparently with some resigned exasperation, the U.S. Supreme Court wrested the outcome of the Florida election away from the State and cleared the logjam. Secretary Katherine Harris at last had the authority she needed to certify the mired election, which would ensure the election of George W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States.

So Larry, 7 DECEMBER 2000 is tied with Pearl Harbor Day in my book. Both were history in a major dimension for me. God bless America.

/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)


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