Mitchell: Fewer veterans holding political office

Approximately 7.3 percent of all living Americans are serving or have served in the military. According to the Congressional Research Service, as of Oct. 1, there are 102 members of Congress who are veterans which represents 18.8 percent of Congress.

While your initial feeling may be that this represents more than twice the underlying population, I am disappointed with that number and more importantly the trend. There has been a steady decline in recent decades as the percentage of Congress who are veterans has declined from 73 percent in 1971-1972 and 64 percent in 1981-1982 to the current 18.8 percent.


The Military Times is reporting 172 veterans won primaries this year and are on the ballot for the general election comprising of 109 Republicans, 62 Democrats and one Independent. For many veterans, going into politics seems like a natural progression following their service. The nature of military service is achieving excellence in your job skill and being developed into a future leader. Leadership is taught at every level along a service members’ career.

One of the first lessons and most important lessons in leadership is the recognition that you can never be a great leader unless you can be a great subordinate. In our government, every military leader ultimately answers to a civilian — the secretary of defense and the president.

Currently, 73 percent of our presidents — 33 out of 45 — were veterans, but it is difficult for me to understand why there continues to be such a decline in the percentage of congressmen and women who have served in our nation’s armed services.

The period of time between 1913-1945 (32 years), marked the longest period in which we had a sitting president who was not a veteran — Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Warren Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) and Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945). The end of World War II lead a 48-year run (1945-1993) of nine presidents who were all veterans.

On other races citizens of Carroll will see on their ballot the following are veterans: Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is seeking re-election; Craig Wolf, who is running for Maryland attorney general, and U.S. Senate candidate Tony Campbell.

In the first congressional district, both incumbent Andy Harris and challenger Jesse Colvin are veterans. Locally Ed Rothstein and Richard Weaver are veterans and both unopposed for seats on the Board of County Commissioners. Kenneth Kiler is the only veteran seeking a position on the Board of Education. Del. Haven Shoemaker is a veteran seeking re-election to the Maryland House of Delegates.

I am not advocating being a single-issue voter and voting for a candidate strictly because they were a veteran, but it would be nice to see more veterans being groomed for leadership in our government following their service and reverse this trend. If you are evenly split on two candidates, maybe put some credence on the candidate’s veteran status.

In Carroll County, for example, only two of our seven public high schools have JROTC. We will have two of our five commissioners that will be veterans but it might be helpful to have a veteran on the school board who might advocate to expand that program throughout the other high schools.

Call me a cynic, but I personally have a hard time thanking a politician or thinking about the sacrifices made by most career politicians who spent their entire career in politics spending 40 years as a senator or congressman leaving with their generous pensions and benefits.

I would rather see a return to how our founders intended it to be where people pursue political office after some other successful career in another field other than politics and then serve in the political arena. I think this would move the words politician and public service a little closer to maybe one day being somewhat synonymous again.