‘Cross-partisan’ group wants to elect veterans to fix a toxic political system

Matt Saintsing
May 16, 2018 - 1:39 pm

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While it’s no secret that the nation is experiencing an era of intense hyper-partisanship, one political organization aims to decrease polarization and ensure America’s political systems operate as they were intended.

With Honor launched a major effort to get the next-generation of military veterans—of every political stripe—elected to the House who will commit to working across party lines. 

“The way we do that is by bringing in military veterans who have the proven track record of putting the country before their party,” said Peter Meijer, a U.S. Army veteran who also advises With Honor.

“We see opportunity with veterans who can speak to issues with a degree of credibility and experience that can ensure they take less dogmatic position.”

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There’s no shortage of candidates who grew-up up within a political machine in their home districts, and while that presents important campaign advantages, like fundraising and name recognition, they can lack a degree of independent thought and behavior going forward, which stymies any potential cooperation.

“When it comes to how we see the value of veterans, they can be a beacon of bipartisanship who will reach across the aisle and have a very intense shared experience, and we believe that will foster increased levels of bipartisanship and cooperation,” Meijer said.

But they don’t just make their candidates talk-the-talk, they’re required to take tangible bipartisan steps including, meeting with a member of the opposite party at least once a month, participate in the veterans caucus and co-sponsor bipartisan legislation at least once a year, should they get elected.

And veterans are perfect candidates that can rise above the toxic political noise given that they’ve dedicated themselves to a higher sense of service to their nation.

“The way that our culture is today, apart from jury duty, the military is one of the only places where you’re thrown together people from every walk of life and given an overarching goal that you need to work together to achieve a higher mission,” he added.

Veterans-status could pay off in November, especially to voters who view candidates with military experience “as significantly more able to handle defense and security issues” than their non-veteran counterparts, says Jeremy Teigen, professor of political science at Ramapo College who recently published a book about veterans in politics, Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016, with Temple University Press.

“While there are some places where we might think a vet will do well, such as districts with very high numbers of active duty and veterans because of a military installation, I believe military vets can win anywhere,” Teigen said.

“Thinking of the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veterans who ran and won congressional seats, I see a lot of diversity. Republican Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Democrat Seth Moulton (D-MA) represent very different areas with contrasting constituencies.”

Ken Harbaugh  

One of With Honor’s candidates, a former naval aviator, Harbaugh is trying to pull off something a Democrat hasn’t been able to do Ohio’s 7th congressional district since the 1930’s—win.

Photo credit: Michael Flanagan

"When I joined the Navy, I swore an oath. Not to a party or to a President, but to the Constitution of the United States,” Harbaugh told Connecting Vets.

“For those of us who risked our lives for that oath, it is written into our DNA. I am running for Congress to return to a time when our representatives put country over party, service above self, and fought for opportunity for all. I think that’s something that everyone -- Republican, Democrat, or Independent -- can get behind."

Lynne Blankenbeker

On the other side of the aisle, this Republican looking to represent New Hampshire’s second Congressional district just wrapped up a 31-year Navy career in January. But instead of enjoying retirement, Blankbeker, is looking to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Harvey

"I'm running for Congress because along with leadership and character, I will bring the military ethos of teamwork, determination and service. It will be a refreshing change from the division, partisanship and political games we are currently experiencing from our Congress," said Blankenbeker. 

"When I was stationed at the pentagon, I lived first-hand the dysfunction in Washington and the negative effect it had on our national security, our military and our veterans. Americans deserve better then that.”

Click here to get to know all of With Honor's candidates and check to see if one is running in your district.