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Hullabaloo


Monday, August 11, 2008

 
Freedom Fighters

by digby

I saw this NYT op-ed from the Secretary of State in Connecticut and just couldn't figure it out.

WHAT is the secretary of Veterans Affairs thinking? On May 5, the department led by James B. Peake issued a directive that bans nonpartisan voter registration drives at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans. As a result, too many of our most patriotic American citizens — our injured and ill military veterans — may not be able to vote this November.

I have witnessed the enforcement of this policy. On June 30, I visited the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven, Conn., to distribute information on the state’s new voting machines and to register veterans to vote. I was not allowed inside the hospital.

Outside on the sidewalk, I met Martin O’Nieal, a 92-year-old man who lost a leg while fighting the Nazis in the mountains of Northern Italy during the harsh winter of 1944. Mr. O’Nieal has been a resident of the hospital since 2007. He wanted to vote last year, but he told me that there was no information about how to register to vote at the hospital and the nurses could not answer his questions about how or where to cast a ballot.

I carry around hundreds of blank voter registration cards in the trunk of my car for just such occasions, so I was able to register Mr. O’Nieal in November. I also registered a few more veterans — whoever I could find outside on the hospital’s sidewalk.

There are thousands of veterans of wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan who are isolated behind the walls of V.A. hospitals and nursing homes across the country. We have an obligation to make sure that every veteran has the opportunity to make his or her voice heard at the ballot box.

Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and I wrote to Secretary Peake in July to request that elections officials be let inside the department’s facilities to conduct voter education and registration. Our request was denied.

The department offers two reasons to justify its decision. First, it claims that voter registration drives are disruptive to the care of its patients. This is nonsense. Veterans can fill out a voter registration card in about 90 seconds.

Second, the department claims that its employees cannot help patients register to vote because the Hatch Act forbids federal workers from engaging in partisan political activities. But this interpretation of the Hatch Act is erroneous. Registering people to vote is not partisan activity.

If the department does not want to burden its staff, there are several national organizations with a long history of nonpartisan advocacy for veterans and their right to vote that are eager to help, as are elected officials like me.


It seemed really bizarre that the Bush administration would want to deny disabled veterans the right to vote. It's true that they have a full program in place to suppress the vote, but it's aimed at Democrats. Disabled veterans are usually a pretty reliable conservative constituency, even if they do depend on tax money. (But hey, only the most rigid libertarians openly believe that the government shouldn't take care of veterans, right?) Why wouldn't they want these guys to vote?

But then I saw this and maybe it makes more sense ...

The [disabled]veterans, at Bally’s for their national convention, gave him a tepid reception, especially considering McCain’s life story. The Arizona senator was a Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, tortured and held as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years.

Just one of 14 veterans interviewed by the Sun after his speech said he is a certain McCain voter, and the nonpartisan group’s legislative director expressed concerns about McCain’s proposed “Veterans’ Care Access Card.”

[...]

John Von Schlicher, 87, of Florida, said he will support McCain. Schlicher sharply criticized the Democratic-controlled Congress for not funding VA hospitals. (Spending on veterans benefits will increase 11 percent this year.)

Other veterans, such as James Jewett and Jay Johnson of Texas, expressed misgivings about McCain using the occasion to attack his opponent so fiercely.

Duke Hendershot, a double amputee retired Marine who served in Vietnam, supported McCain’s run for president in 2000 but is undecided this year.

“John just isn’t the same as he used to be. He’s not his own man,” said Hendershot, who lives in San Antonio, Texas. “A lot of that has to do with how he’s wanted this job so bad for so long that he’s tied himself to President Bush.”

He said McCain’s embrace of Bush, whom Hendershot called a “draft-dodging coward,” is even more perplexing because of the rivalry between the two candidates during the 2000 campaign.


My Dad, who is 86, thinks McCain is too old to be president.(of course he hates Obama even more...) Maybe this constituency, which has had hands on experience with the Bush administration's malfeasance isn't such a reliable voting bloc this time. It's hard to see any other good reason why the administration would issue such a dumb order.

I'd love to see the Obama campaign make an issue of this one.


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