Sunday, August 3, 2008

VoteVets hopes to make politics in Iowa friendlier to veterans

Because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans have seen not only a surge in their ranks, but more emphasis on veterans-related issues in politics, as well. In an attempt to corral and empower the veterans’ voice in the political theater, the Political Action Committee formed to help Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans get elected to public office.

“If we are able to help elect veterans, they are more likely to give more consideration to veterans’ issues while serving in office,” James Mowrer, Iowa director and senior adviser to, told the Iowa Independent during a telephone interview. “They will be in place to support returning veterans and will help put in policies that support military strategies that are more realistic and feasible than the current administration."

Before taking over the Iowa helm of in January, Mowrer served with the Iowa National Guard’s I-133rd Infantry Battalion, which was deployed to Iraq for 22 months, from October 2005 to August 2007. While serving in Iraq, Mowrer gathered, analyzed and synthesized intelligence for the military.

“I believe that the more veterans we elect to office, the less likely our country is to go to war,” Mowrer said. “I think this notion holds true because veterans have experienced war firsthand, and they know what it means to send our troops into harm’s way. They aren’t going to do it unless there is a very good, compelling reason to do so.” primarily focuses on federal offices but has recently expanded its efforts to the state level. Such was the case in Iowa in 2006, when endorsed a successful bid by McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, for the Iowa House. Bailey, an Iraq war veteran, has helped lead the charge for veterans, helping push through a number of bills during his first term, including the recent passage of a bill that would help build the Veterans Trust Fund through the implementation of three new Iowa Lottery games.

“The state level plays a big role on how our veterans our treated, because they can put policies into place that directly affect veterans,” Mowrer said. “In some areas, the state government has more power than the federal, because they can pass and implement legislation faster. They don’t have to wade through all of the bureaucracy at the federal level.”

Mowrer said he would like to see focus more at the grass-roots level. “A lot of state-elected officials will move on to seek federal office, so it is in our best interest to focus on electing veterans at the grass-roots level as well,” Mowrer said.

From citizen soldier to veterans’ advocate

Mowrer’s experiences in Iraq served as the foundation for his wanting to become more involved with military and veterans' issues when he returned to Iowa.

“I got involved with politics and VoteVets because I saw a lot of issues not being addressed by the current administration,” Mowrer said. “I also see a number of veterans’ issues that will need to be addressed, that are not currently being addressed by the Veterans Administration, for this new wave of vets returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

One of the biggest issues that Mowrer saw while in Iraq was the lack of leadership and no concrete plan or military strategy for winning the war. “There was no realistic, comprehensive plan to end our involvement -- at least in combat operations," Mowrer said. “In any military operation, there needs to be some sort of desired ends date and this goal needs to be made clear to the troops and the citizens of the country. There was no strategy in place that would allow that to happen. There was no leadership on the ground pointing troops in the direction of what needs to be done.”

No clear plan for the war in Iraq is what inspired Mowrer to sign on with the presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., before ending his tour of duty in Iraq. Drawn to Biden’s plan for Iraq, Mowrer served as the chair for Vets for Biden before Biden dropped out of the race.

Moreover, Mowrer points his finger at the current administration and leadership for damaging the military through its use of extended and multiple deployments. “When you have an all-volunteer force, their service needs to be treated with respect in order to maintain a strong, capable military force,” Mowrer said. “We have had to invest a large amount of money in enlistment and reenlistment bonuses to bring new people into the military and to retain those who have already fulfilled their initial commitment.” vow to hold public officials accountable

Another stated primary goal of VoteVets is to “hold public officials accountable for their words and actions that impact America’s 21st century servicemembers; and fully support our men and women in uniform.”

With the presidential general election in full swing, this pledge has come to fruition. “VoteVets is obviously interested in getting involved with the presidential campaign, making sure both candidates are addressing veterans’ issues and putting a feasible strategy for winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into place.” Mowrer said. “We are making sure they are answering the tough questions when it comes to the welfare of our veterans and deployment issues facing those who are currently serving in the military.”

VoteVets recently ran ads holding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen, John McCain of Arizona, accountable for his record on the 21st Century GI Bill, which was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.

“Sen. McCain is a veteran and uses that as part of his resume, which is completely reasonable, but what is shocking is that he neglected his responsibilities to his fellow veterans,” Mowrer said. “Not only did he miss the vote on the bill, but he was on record opposing the current bill as well, citing fiscal concerns. We have a hard time buying this argument when the funding for the new GI bill could be covered with one week's funding of the war in Iraq.

“What this says to us is that McCain is willing to send people into harm’s way, but is not willing to provide them with the resources they need to be successful when they return home from the war. A recent study shows that for every dollar we invest in veterans’ education, we see a $7 return on this investment.”

Mowrer says VoteVets is also concerned with the candidates’ future plans for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We are a pro-military organization, and we are in favor of a winnable, feasible strategy, but the definitions need to be specifically defined by the candidates,” Mowrer said. "What is our victory? What is the desired ends date and how do we get there?”

VoteVets recently released an ad (see below) pointing out that McCain is opposing a timetable while the Iraq government has asked the United States to implement one. “So we have put a democratically elected government in place in Iraq, and now we are defying the will of the Iraqi people through their government. To me that is a dangerous course of action is contradictory to what our motives should be. There needs to be a political solution in place that allows some political stability that allows our troops to eventually to withdraw. We cannot keep our troops thee for an indefinite period of time.”

Nonpartisanship and the swift-boat factor

Despite recent ads calling McCain’s policies and comments into question, Mowrer insisted that VoteVets is nonpartisan. “We are looking to hold both candidates responsible, so we would run ads critiquing Sen. Obama as well, if he should offer a policy or say something that we feel doesn’t support veterans,” Mowrer said.

Moreover, Mowrer addressed concerns that may be partisan. “We have endorsed Republicans and Democrats for Congress,” Mowrer said. “We have held politicians and candidates on both sides accountable for what they say and do. When we have been critical of Republican candidates, the Republican Party has attempted to paint us as a Democrat-leaning organization, but they are not going to argue with us when we are critical of Democrats.”

To help appease any fears that may be another swift-boating group, Mowrer drew distinctions between a PAC and 527 issue groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. “Obviously we are against any attack on someone’s honorable military service, so we will be the first organization to come to the defense of any candidate whose record is unjustly attacked,” Mowrer said. “We will not hesitate to defend them, regardless of where they may be on the political spectrum.

“We may not agree with the candidates on the issues, but we might address those in a different context,” Mowrer said. “We have difference with veterans running for office, and we will address these differences in an honest format.”

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