Thursday, July 23, 2009

Veterans in Office

By Marc Korman.

A recent Gazette article about Ike Leggett’s return to Vietnam forty years after serving in the war there left me wondering what other local politicians served in the military.

The number of veterans serving in the US House and Senate has declined considerably over the years. According to a Congressional Research Service report, there are 96 veterans in the House and 25 in the Senate. That is compared to 398 in 1969 and 298 in 1979. None of the current Congressional veterans are from Maryland. Former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest served in the Marines. Andy Harris, who beat Gilchrest in the Republican primary and lost in the general election in 2008, served in the Navy Reserves. Former Governor and Comptroller William Donald Schaeffer was in the Army as well. I could not find numbers on how many veterans serve in the Maryland General Assembly and whether the number has declined.

Statewide, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown serves in the Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Comptroller Peter Franchot served in the Army. Locally, Leggett was an Army lieutenant during Vietnam. Other local elected officials who served in the military are state Senator Rob Garagiola and Councilman Mike Knapp. Garagiola was in the Army Reserves from 1995 to 2001. Knapp served for ten years in the Army Reserves. No one I spoke to knew of any other current Montgomery County elected officials who served in the Armed Forces. But if I forgot someone, I hope someone mentions them in the comments.

One veteran I spoke to thought there was an important political constituency of veterans largely overlooked in Montgomery County. There are over 52,000 veterans in the County according to a Task Force to Study State Assistance to Veterans report. In 2008, Montgomery County established a Veterans Commission to study and make recommendations on veterans issues the County can affect.

After World War II, military service was almost a prerequisite for a political career. As late as the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s lack of service was an issue during his two presidential campaigns, when he ran against two heroes of World War II. Clinton was the first US president since FDR not to serve in the military in at least some capacity.

But as the number of World War II veterans still active in politics declines, so does veteran saturation in politics. I believe there are a few reasons for that decline. First, the entire country mobilized for World War II and over ten million Americans entered the Armed Forces. Far fewer serve now. Second, the veterans who returned from World War II were treated as heroes. But such uniform support did not exist in subsequent conflicts and military service was not as potent a line on a resume for a political candidate. However, public appreciation of veterans has been strong since 9/11 so that trend could be reversing with the new crop of veterans running for political office.

At least one potential local candidate in 2010, Guled Kassim, has served in the Marines. If there are others, I hope they will be mentioned in the comments.