Right Hooks

Vets Storm American Governance

Patriots are taking the fight from the battlefields to legislatures.

Jordan Candler · Nov. 16, 2016

Veterans once filled the overwhelming majority of congressional seats. In fact, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Gary Schmitt and Rebecca Burgess, “In 1971, veterans made up 72 percent of the House of Representatives and 78 percent of the Senate. In 1991, the Congress that approved the use of force against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm had only slightly more veterans than non-veterans.” Fast forward to now, however, and the statistics are reversed: “In today’s Congress, veterans hold 20 percent of Senate seats, while 18 percent of House members are veterans.”

Schmitt and Burgess contend that today’s proportional number of veterans to general population doesn’t provide an adequate reason for the drop. “The decline of veterans in public office has been sharper than the decline of veterans within the general population,” they write. “Why? Perhaps the most significant reason is the current cost of running for Congress. The price tag for a Senate campaign stands near $10.5 million, the House near $1.6 million.”

Which makes the relatively recent electoral wins by veterans Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and even Democrat Tammy Duckworth all the more remarkable, if not inspiring. Last week, another veteran was added to American governance — Republican and decorated ex-Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, who will succeed Jay Nixon as governor of Missouri. Do these gains portend even broader wins for veterans down the road? There’s at least reason for optimism.

“Any reversal of the declining trend in veterans in the halls of Congress,” write Schmitt and Burgess, “will probably begin with the one tried-and-true way to gain legislative experience, build name recognition, and increase access to a fundraising network — election to a state legislature. State legislative office is a traditional steppingstone to federal office, with 50 percent of the 114th Congress, for example, composed of former state legislators. From this perspective, the good news is that no fewer than 1,039 out of 7,383 state legislators have military experience — 14 percent.”

The authors note that, because of military evolution and other circumstances, “veterans in American legislatures will not reach again the high levels of the 1970s.” In any case, a growing number of Patriots are taking up an important new endeavor — taking the fight from the battlefields to legislatures locally and on Capitol Hill.

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