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Issa or Applegate: Battle of the Veterans

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The voters of California’s 49th Congressional District, which includes Camp Pendleton, have the rare opportunity to choose between two veterans. It’s a Real Clear Politics toss-up seat, and the Democrats are pouring in millions to try an unseat Congressman Darrell Issa as revenge for his uncompromising oversight of the Obama administration’s corruption. The challenger is a vet like Issa – in fact, that’s his sole selling point. But voters who support our past and present troops need to look beyond former ranks and campaign mailer pictures of camo-clad candidates to see who will truly stand up for them.


Congressman Issa dropped out of high school to enlist as an Explosive Ordinance Demolition (EOD) soldier. Like many young people I led during my decades as an infantry officer, a hitch in the Army helped take an unfocused teen and prepare him for success.

Captain Issa later earned his commission as an armor officer and held two company commands. His evaluation reports were superb, with top marks from a Medal of Honor recipient and even future Democrat presidential candidate Wesley Clark – and Clark had a reputation as an impatient and tough commander. Leveraging his leadership experience like so many other vets, he built a successful manufacturing business in San Diego County.

Congressman Issa’s opponent is attorney Doug Applegate. He spent most of his career in the reserves as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer. Nothing wrong with that; a Marine JAG is still a Marine and that’s always worthy of respect. Applegate’s civilian personal injury law practice included suing police officers; that’s not so good. He retired as a colonel, as anyone reading his campaign literature knows.

Republican Issa is a solid conservative known for tenacious oversight of government wrongdoing, but also for reaching across the aisle. Democrat Applegate is an eager backer of President Obama. If he has any criticisms of this Administration’s management of wars that so many of his potential constituents have been, or will be, called to fight, he keeps them low-key. Also muted is Applegate’s promise to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has called for dangerous cuts to our military. It seems odd to say you support the troops on one hand, and want to send them off to fight half-hearted campaigns without the very best equipment.


Congressman Issa is a fierce critic of the shameful, festering problems at the Veterans Administration under the Obama administration. Applegate’s website mentions VA issues, but doesn’t come close to holding President Obama accountable for letting our veterans down. One of the hallmarks of a military leader is to tell the chain of command when you believe the boss is making a mistake – either Applegate is afraid to cross his patrons or, even worse, he doesn’t understand what a disaster the VA is.

When the California National Guard bonus outrage became public, Issa immediately took the lead in pushing back on the Pentagon’s callous policy of clawing back thousands of dollars from blameless young heroes. Applegate instead attended a glittering La Jolla fundraiser with President Obama, and chose not to ruin the evening by mentioning the Pentagon’s unjust behavior to its Commander-In-Chief. Obama was right there and, apparently, Applegate chose to say nothing. It’s more than baffling – it’s sad that a leader would not stand up for his troops. Luckily the efforts of Issa and others have put this fiasco on the road to a resolution for our troops.

Applegate’s unwillingness to challenge his powerful patrons today contrasts with his portrayal of himself as a “shot caller” inside his unit’s command post in Iraq. Sounds impressive, but Applegate knows that JAGs are a support element who merely provide advice; only the commander is the “shot caller.” This blatant exaggeration is nothing to boast about.


Another disturbing character issue is the restraining orders brought by his ex-wife, which required him to turn in his handguns – ironic, since Applegate shares Hillary Clinton’s anti-Second Amendment agenda. This event, like the Court of Appeal decision and State Bar discipline chastising him for misconduct toward a personal injury client, could have resulted in his security clearance being revoked.

Especially concerning is how Applegate still backs Clinton and refuses to criticize her outrageous mishandling of classified material even after FBI Director James Comey has reopened the investigation of her wrongdoing and other shocking allegations have come to light. It is very possible that in his years as a JAG, he sent Marines to the brig for doing just a fraction of what his nominee intentionally did. How can Applegate remain silent about this shameful double standard?

That’s a problem. No one entrusted to lead American warriors should have one standard for subordinates and another for those who can help his campaign. Darrell Issa has worked with allies and opponents when they are right and called them out when they are wrong. Doug Applegate has fallen short. And the voters in the California 49th need to know it.

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