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by Imaginatrix (forward) Friday, Dec. 15, 2000 at 7:51 PM

Rhenquists training as voter intimidator.

JUST OUR BILL by Dennis Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Saturday,

December 02, 2000

Lito Pena is sure of his memory. Thirty-six years ago he,

then a Democratic Party poll watcher, got into a shoving

match with a Republican who had spent the opening hours of

the 1964 election doing his damnedest to keep people

from voting in south Phoenix. "He was holding up minority

voters because he knew they were going to vote Democratic,"said Pena.

The guy called himself Bill. He knew the law and applied it

with the precision of a swordsman. He sat at the table at

the Bethune School, a polling place brimming with black

citizens, and quizzed voters ad nauseam about where they

were from, how long they'd lived there -- every question in

the book. A passage of the Constitution was read and people

who spoke broken English were ordered to interpret it to

prove they had the language skills to vote.

By the time Pena arrived at Bethune, he said, the line to

vote was four abreast and a block long. People were givingup and going home.

Pena told the guy to leave. They got into an argument.

Shoving followed. Arizona politics can be raw.

Finally, Pena said, the guy raised a fist as if he wasfixing to throw a punch.

"I said 'If that's what you want, I'll get someone to take

you out of here' " Party leaders told him not to get

physical, but this was the second straight election in

which Republicans had sent out people to intellectually

rough up the voters. The project even had a name: Operation

Eagle Eye. Pena had a group of 20 iron workers holed up in

a motel nearby. He dispatched one who grabbed Bill and

hustled him out of the school.

"He was pushing him across a yard and backed him into the

school building," Pena remembered.

Others in Phoenix remember Operation Eagle Eye, too.

Charlie Stevens, then the head of the local Young

Republicans, said he got a phone call from the same lawyer

Pena remembered throwing out of Bethune School. The guy

wanted to know why Charlie hadn't joined Operation Eagle

Eye. "I think they called them flying squads," Stevens

said. "It was perfectly legal. The law at the time was that

you had to be able to read English and interpret what youread."

But he didn't like the idea and he told Bill this. "My

parents were immigrants," Stevens said. They'd settled in

Cleveland, Ohio, a pair of Greeks driven out of Turkey who

arrived in the United States with broken English and a

desire to be American. After their son went to law school

and settled in Phoenix, he even Americanized the name.

Charlie Tsoukalas became Charlie Stevens. "I didn't think

it was proper to challenge my dad or my mother to interpret

the Constitution," Stevens said. "Even people who are born

here have trouble interpreting the Constitution. Lawyers

have trouble interpreting it."

The guy told Stevens that if he felt that way about it,

then he could take a pass.There was nothing illegal goingon there, Stevens said.

"It just violated my principles. I had a poor family. I

grew up in the projects in Cleveland, Ohio."

Operation Eagle Eye had a two-year run. Eventually, Arizona

changed the laws that had allowed the kind of challenges

that had devolved into bullying. Pena went on to serve 30

years in the Arizona State Legislature. Stevens became a

prosperous and well-regarded lawyer in Phoenix and helped

Sandra Day O'Connor get her start in law. The guy Pena

remembers tossing out of Bethune School prospered, too.

Bill Rehnquist, now better known as William H. Rehnquist,

chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,

presided yesterday over a case that centers on whether

every vote for president was properly recorded in thestate of Florida.

In his confirmation hearings for the court in 1971,

Rehnquist denied personally intimidating voters and gave

the explanation that he might have been called to polling

places on Election Day to arbitrate disputes over

voter qualifications. Fifteen years later, three more

witnesses, including a deputy U.S. attorney, told of being

called to polling places and having angry voters point to

Rehnquist as their tormentor. His defenders suggested it

was a case of mistaken identity.

Now, with the presidency in the balance, Rehnquist has been

asked to read passages of the Constitution and interpret

them. Once again, a reading and interpretation will

determine whose vote gets to count.

Report this post as:

Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 5 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
THIS IS NO DEMOCRACY! JFK Friday, Dec. 15, 2000 at 8:28 PM
Voters' qualifications Mr. Fair Friday, Dec. 15, 2000 at 8:49 PM
if you can't spell -- you can't be president! Fairer than thou Friday, Dec. 15, 2000 at 9:09 PM
spelling john Friday, Dec. 15, 2000 at 9:28 PM
Can't spell? Guglielmo Marconi Saturday, Dec. 16, 2000 at 3:28 PM

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