Democrats Must Work Harder To Win Military Votes

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman
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In the 2004 election, when the Iraq War was at its worst and American service members were being killed and wounded every day due to a poorly managed conflict, President George W. Bush won the military vote by a whopping 16 percentage points over Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam Veteran.

My point is that whether it is fair or not, Republicans have a strong advantage over Democrats when it comes to the voting habits of the American military.

A Military Times poll taken in 2012, during the last major national election, found that almost 44 percent of military voters identify themselves as Republican, while less than 10 percent do the same as Democrats.

Because the military tends to lean Republican, Democrats cannot afford to make mistakes when it comes to dealing with this constituency. This is why some recent news about how our government treats its service members has me concerned – especially as we approach the midterm elections and Republicans are pulling out all the stops to try to take control of the Senate.

One issue, which has not gotten a lot of attention from media, but is creating a problem for our men and women in uniform, was a recent decision by the Obama administration to award a new contract for shipping personal vehicles for military personnel when they are transferred. For some soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines, this transfer might be from Virginia to California, and for others, from Florida to Italy.

Being able to easily drop off a vehicle for shipping before shipping out – and having that vehicle arrive near the next duty station on time and without incident — is critical for the peace of mind of our service members and the day-to-day lives of their families. For many service members, their car or truck is the most valuable thing they own. It means freedom of movement when they get to a new post, the ability to access goods and services off base and transport children. The last thing our men and women in uniform need is a headache of red tape from those charged with transporting their belongings.

This has happened because the Pentagon awarded the contract — to perform these vehicle transportation services — to a company called International Auto Logistics. The fact that this company was created for the sole purpose of performing this service should have sent up some red flags, but it didn’t. They underbid a company called American Auto Logistics, by almost $40 million dollars, which by most accounts did a good job performing these services.

While I fully support efforts to save the American taxpayer money, that always needs to be balanced with assurances that the company getting the contract can actually do the job. There have been complaints by service members about this new company, and Senator David Vitter, of Louisiana, has asked the Pentagon to look into International Auto Logistics and see if they really can do everything they said they could do to win the contract in the first place.

I hope this is a temporary glitch that is likely to occur with any new contractor. But it has the makings of a real disaster for the Obama administration if some of the early rumors about International Auto Logistics are accurate. This could be even worse for the White House if reports are also true that this company has close ties to the government of North Korea.

Lastly, while I don’t need to pile on the White House about the scandal at the Veteran’s Administration, where clerks intentionally denied veterans access to medical care in order to artificially reduce wait times, it is certainly a horrendous story.

I think the president did the right thing by asking the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration to resign.

For political reasons, Republicans and conservatives were quick to pile on the president for this scandal. Again, fair or not, this does not look good for Democrats and I know that many members of the military and veterans felt that this was a horrible slight against them and hold the president responsible.

As someone who made looking out for the military and veterans a priority when I was in Congress, I hope the Obama administration will ensure that our military personnel are treated with the respect they deserve for defending our freedom. It means fixing the big problems like the debacle at the VA, and even the ones which aren’t life-threatening like making sure transferred military get their personal cars and trucks in a timely manor. Failure to do so hurts our troops and veterans and helps Republicans – all things that I oppose.

Robbie Shows, a Democrat, represented Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District from 1999 – 2003.