Tuesday, October 04, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Our military Nonpartisan

The men and women in the military appreciate their special status in our society: They make sacrifices every day, which is why they earn the gratitude of the American people.

Our armed forces rise above politics and act as military professionals. It’s been our tradition since the American Revolution. They take their role seriously and focus on the job at hand and not on who is in the White House or in Congress or in our state legislatures. The military answers to the civilian service chiefs and the commander in chief and it reports to Congress, which approves the Pentagon’s budget every year. Sure there’s often meddling in Washington, but generally our military is left alone to pursue our nation’s goals and global responsibilities.

The trade off for the military is that it must remain nonpartisan, which is one reason why politicians cannot campaign for office on military bases. We’ve seen presidents at Little Rock Air Force Base, as well as governors, senators and legislators, but no one is supposed to pass out campaign literature. State legislators cannot drive to the air base with their campaign signs on their trucks.

Because of an oversight at the recent open house at the base, Patrick Thomas, a candidate for the state legislature, was allowed to set up a table and handed out campaign literature. Many veterans criticized Thomas, who should have known that such activities are not allowed at military installations. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, was criticized when his supporters hosted a coffee get-together for him on a base when he ran for president in 2008.

According to Department of Defense public-affairs guidance for political campaigns and elections, “While a candidate for public office is prohibited from engaging in political activity on a military installation, a sitting office holder who is up for re-election may be granted access to a military installation to engage in duties related to his elected office.”

There are rules for politicians and military members. Capt. Stephanie Howell, 19th Airlift Wing judge advocate at Little Rock Air Force Base, said recently, “Although military personnel are encouraged to vote, engaging in political activities is prohibited.”

“There are plenty of ways you can still get involved — and you should,” Howell said.

Service members can have political opinions, of course, but they must never suggest that their views are supported or endorsed by the Defense Department or a specific branch of service.

On social media, Howell said, service members and DOD civilians may become a “friend” of or “like,” the Facebook page, or “follow” the twitter account of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign, group or cause but cannot invite others to do the same.

“Some activities, although not expressly prohibited, may be contrary to the spirit of the regulation. Be especially careful of posting on social media — it’s easy to accidentally step over the line,” Howell said. “Campaigning for a candidate, soliciting contributions and marching in or attending a political campaign while in uniform are prohibited.”

It’s a two-way street: Politicians should have the same restrictions and respect the independence of our military when they visit our air base. Because when you’re there, it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian or Green Party. We’re all Americans.

Candidates have plenty of opportunities to campaign elsewhere.