article

11.04.10

The New Vets in Congress

America's wars overseas received almost no attention on the campaign trail this year, but the Republican wave brought with it a half-dozen new congressmen who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Benjamin Sarlin on the victorious veterans.

Tuesday's GOP takeover of the House had a martial quality to it, as the incoming freshman class included six veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's great," said Joe Davis, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "They bring a different perspective that no on else has—you can't have 100 percent of Congress just be lawyers."

(Davis also noted that two Democratic incumbents who served abroad in America's current wars, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania and John Boccieri of Ohio, lost.)

The veterans come to Congress after an election cycle in which America’s military engagements were virtually absent from the national political debate, eclipsed by the sour economy and battles over major domestic legislation including health care and financial reform.

The new members will join incumbent Iraq vets Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Mike Coffman (R-CO) in the House in January. Rep. Mark Kirk, who served briefly in Iraq, moved up to the Senate this week.

A little about the incoming freshmen:

Adam Kinzinger

Like a number of the newly elected veterans, Adam Kinzinger was a Tea Party favorite in his bid for Congress. He unseated Rep. Debbie Halvorson in the suburban Chicago-based 11th District of Illinois. By the time Kinzinger, 32, joined the Air Force in 2003, he had already won a second term to elected office on a county board, taking office for the first time at age 20. Kinzinger's campaign focused largely on cutting spending and while he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his campaign ads focused almost as much attention on a medal he received stateside as a civilian for rescuing a woman from a knife-wielding attacker.  Kinzinger was recently named to Time magazine's prestigious 40 Under 40 list.

The veterans come to Congress after an election cycle in which America’s military engagements were virtually absent from the national political debate.

Allen West

The most celebrated and controversial member of the new veteran class, Allen West is a Tea Party superstar. His second effort at defeating Rep. Joe Klein of Florida became a conservative cause celebre, powered by West's fiery speeches and an eye-popping $5.6 million in donations, according to OpenSecrets. But human-rights activists and some veterans are troubled by his military record: He was forced out of the service for overseeing the abuse of an Iraqi policeman by his troops before firing a gun past the policeman’s head to try and get him to provide information on insurgent attacks. (There's been no subsequent evidence that the policeman was working with the insurgency.) Democrats actively avoided making an issue of the incident even as they sought to portray West as a violent extremist over his ties to a biker gang. (West has denied any association with the group, known as the Outlaws.)

Joe Heck

In addition to his veteran status, Colonel Joe Heck boasts a medical degree. After returning from a deployment to Iraq, Heck won a state senate seat in Nevada and served for four years while he ran his own medical consulting firm. He narrowly defeated Rep. Dina Titus on Tuesday. Despite efforts by Titus to tie Heck to defeated Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle, Heck managed to maintain a moderate image, at one point telling a voter he wasn't sure who he was voting for in the Angle race.

Steve Stivers

Generally regarded as a pro-choice, pro-environment, moderate Republican, Steve Stivers tacked to the right and drew heavy Tea Party support for his campaign against Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio's 15th District. His small-government views could be pretty intense at times—he told one Tea Party group in a survey that only the Justice, State, Defense, and Treasury Departments were constitutional, and the rest could be eliminated. Stivers rose through the ranks of the Ohio Army National Guard to become a lieutenant colonel and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Chris Gibson

Chris Gibson ran for Congress in New York's 20th District after an Army career that included four combat tours in Iraq and a humanitarian relief mission in Haiti after the country's devastating earthquake. In addition to becoming a colonel, Gibson boasts a Ph.D. in government from Cornell. His experience gives him a unique perspective on some hot-button issues—he let slip in an interview, for example, that he had actually dealt with Don't Ask, Don't Tell in two cases during his time in the military.

Tim Griffin

An Army JAG officer, Tim Griffin served in Iraq in 2006. But Griffin was best known nationally for his role as a political operative in the Bush administration, where his part in the U.S. attorney scandal led to his resignation as well as that of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a number of high-ranking Justice Department officials. He bounced back to run for Congress this year, winning a seat in Arkansas that opened up when Democratic congressman Vic Snyder retired.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.