A Bright Light in The Sixth
The nonpartisan veterans' organization IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) recently conducted a study of congressional votes to determine which of our elected representatives truly support our troops, and which of them don't go beyond slapping a couple of magnetic ribbons on their vehicles.
The study involved recording legislators' votes on various bills and resolutions of veteran interest - issues like access to medical care, Veterans Administration funding, body armor provisions, caring for veterans' families, and many others along those lines. The study analyzed the votes on 324 veteran-related bills brought forth since September 11, 2001.
The organization applied a letter grade to each congressman and senator to rate his or her responsiveness and support of military veterans. And Maryland has much to be proud of when it comes to supporting our troops, both overseas and at home - only two of our congressmen and senators scored lower than a B-plus, and most scored an A-minus.
The two outliers, both scoring in the C-plus range, were Republican Congressmen Wayne Gilchrest and our own Roscoe Bartlett.
Surprised? Don't be. The study as a whole was extremely damning to congressional Republicans. For all the GOP's blather about "supporting the troops," the Democrats overwhelmingly outperformed the Republicans on veterans' issues, buttressing the idea that most Republican legislators care for our soldiers only as stage props.
Symptomatic of this pattern is the House vote on HR 1815 on May 25, 2005, which was meant to extend TRICARE coverage to National Guardsmen and reservists deployed overseas. The motion failed 218-211; the House refused to grant free health care coverage to the troops it claims to revere so respectfully. And Roscoe Bartlett was one of the 218, who were overwhelmingly Republican.
But this sad state of affairs does not have to continue. Iraq War veteran Andrew Duck has been running a strong challenge to Representative Bartlett, and he's been picking up so much momentum of late that Congressional Quarterly recently took the seat off the "safe Republican" list - a near-unprecedented breakthrough in the most heavily GOP district in the state.
Some of this is due to the Democratic resurgence reflecting itself in nationwide polls, particularly in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, which finally hammered home the idea that "values" to Republicans are just an empty buzzword.
But Mr. Duck is the real deal, a very strong candidate in his own right, and he wouldn't be breathing down Congressman Bartlett's neck if it weren't for his own determined hard work in reaching out to a heavily Republican district that votes for Mr. Bartlett more out of inertia and party affiliation than anything.
The 15th of 17 children, Mr. Duck served 20 years in the U.S. Army, including tours in Bosnia and Iraq. He functioned as an intelligence liaison officer during his Iraq tour. It was there that he realized - that once he got back home - he needed to get involved in changing the direction of the country he loves.
So he is running for Congress. And he has established himself quickly as a potent challenger, thanks in part to his relentless campaigning, and thanks in large part to his broad stream of proposals and ideas, which create a stark contrast to the incumbent.
Mr. Duck believes that America should be energy-independent within 10 years, and offers a comprehensive, multi-pronged plan to attain that goal, involving bio-fuel development, natural gas exploitation, better fuel standards for motorized vehicles, and good, old-fashioned conservation. After all, energy independence is the national-security issue for our times.
He supports universal access to healthcare, while remaining open to any possible pathway to get us there. He opposes government micro-management of private family decisions (quite the conservative, isn't he?). He recognizes that "family values" are an empty, meaningless phrase if one does not support the economic infrastructure necessary for families to thrive, such as living-wage legislation. He believes in education, and in keeping jobs at home, not rewarding companies that ship jobs overseas. And he's fully supportive of gun-ownership rights.
In these and other issues, he's the embodiment of common-sense solutions to problems, shorn of the shrill ideological cant that permeates so much of today's right-wing rhetoric, in which Congressman Bartlett engages far too frequently. Mr. Duck won't waste his time paying tribute to narcissistic Korean cult leaders. And his approach to the issue that defines the decade, the Iraq war, is one borne of real-life experience and based in the hard truths about the situation on the ground. Hint: it isn't "stay the course."
There's no reason to stay the Bartlett course, either. Mr. Duck offers a refreshing course correction to a district - and a nation - that desperately needs it. Maryland's 6th Congressional District has been a tough one for Democrats. Largely rural, it spreads wide over most of the state's Republican strongholds, and its odd geographic shape - suggestive of a horizontal Chile - makes campaigning a daunting task for any challenger going up against Dr. Bartlett. But, if anyone can pull it off, Mr. Duck is that man.
One thing is certain - with Andrew Duck as our congressman, IAVA's going to be upgrading that C-plus rating pretty dramatically