Idaho Republicans seem to have become focused in recent days on what would seem to be a minor dustup that improbably has been gaining rather than losing force.
It grew out of this event during the candidate filing period, when former 1st District Representative Bill Sali showed up at the Idaho Statehouse not to file for election (which had been speculated in some quarters) but to endorse a candidate, fellow Republican Raul Labrador. The other major Republican contender in the 1st (which is now held by Democrat Walt Minnick, who defeated Sali in 2008) is former congressional staffer Vaughn Ward, who also served in the military in the Middle East. (The video is from IdahoReporter.com)
At about four minutes in, Sali says of Ward: “Vaughn has served our country with distinction and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that, as we do all of our veterans. But I have to tell you, sending Vaughn Ward to Washington D.C. is a little bit like sending a Boy Scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting votes. He doesn’t have experience in the political arena.” He described Ward as "a fine man and I wish he was running for the Idaho Legislature."
The point is reasonable enough, and a fair response to Ward's own statements about gaining leadership experience in the military: It may be valuable, and demonstrate useful capabilities on Ward's part, but working as an elected official, especially at a high level, is a different kind of experience and would involve a learning curve for someone who hasn't done it before. In essence, Sali here was offering up a bullet point in favor of his endorsee, Labrador, who has been a state legislator. (Ward would contend, also not unreasonably, that his military background offered intensive training in decision-making and leadership, likewise not a bad point, but not entirely overriding Sali's contention either.)
It was not really much by way of an attack of Ward, and it didn't seem intended to be, but evidently was taken as such. The rapid response from Ward's campaign was this: “No decision in Congress will be tougher than the decisions Vaughn made in combat. Vaughn is a proven combat leader who has spent his life in service to Idaho and our country. Bill Sali and Raul Labrador are politicians who represent a failed establishment that has given us higher unemployment, increased spending, and a record deficit. Vaughn will not stand idly by and watch our politicians in Washington continue to jeopardize the future of our children and grandchildren."
That more or less racheted things upward, and they moved up another notch when the Ward campaign released a string of statements from veterans, including former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. There was this from retired Major General Ben Doty (a former Veterans for Sali chair): “Bill Sali’s comments were incredibly insensitive and inappropriate. Bill and Raul’s attempt to degrade Vaughn’s service and leadership is disrespectful to all the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the Boys Scouts of America that have served our country for generations. I hope Bill and Raul will issue an apology and let Idahoans know how deeply they appreciate Vaughn’s and his fellow veterans’ service to our country.”
Except that there wasn't really any degradation here; Sali praised Ward's military service. Sali has a history of making remarks that tick off people, including some people who logically would be allies, but this one was closer to a dispassionate analysis.
The debate goes on. It has turned into the hottest discussion topic so far in this primary campaign. (more…)