As a man who says he once served in the United States Marines, state Rep. Kevin Haggerty deserves the benefit of the doubt. But Haggerty’s military service does not give him a pass to refuse to answer questions about that military service.
For years now, Haggerty has ducked answering a simple and specific question about his time with the Marines: What are the circumstances of his military discharge from the Corps?
Since Haggerty was quick to use the Marines as part of his elections campaigns – going so far as to post color photographs of himself standing at attention with a huge group of banner-carrying and uniformed Marines - the question is fair.
Now that Haggerty serves as a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, the question carries all the more relevance to the voters and taxpayers he serves in the 112th Legislative District, particularly to military veterans in the district and in the Commonwealth.
Because Haggerty wields power to help shape public policy regarding those veterans, he owes them and us an explanation.
Yet Haggerty still refuses to answer the question.
I invited him in an email yesterday to come on the air and talk about the military mystery.
Haggerty failed to respond.
During his first unsuccessful campaign for legislative office as well as during his last campaign, I asked Haggerty to explain the mystery. People were talking and he could put the rumors to rest. Haggerty not only refused, he got defensive and somewhat threatening when he mentioned in several emails what I took to be the possibility of legal action against anyone who questioned his military past.
Despite his bluster, though, he never answered my question.
What exactly are the circumstances of Haggerty’s military discharge? What kind of discharge does he possess? What does his DD 214 form say about his military service? How long was Haggerty in the Marines? Why did he leave?
Most military veterans never encounter these questions. Unlike Haggerty, many vets never talk about their service and most do not post photos of themselves on the World Wide Web for the whole wide world to see.
But Haggerty wanted the whole wide world to know that he served in the Marines. Serving in the Marines is an honor that a political candidate can use to his or her benefit. Calling yourself a Marine carries with it an air of distinction. Marines are known as a brave, unique bunch of men and women.
So what’s Haggerty the Marine afraid of?
I’m told that Haggerty did not apply for the position on the veterans’ affairs committee, that he was tapped by the Democratic leadership for whatever their reasons.
And, since Haggerty has ignored my inquiries, I have now sought help from other members of the committee – both Democrats and majority Republicans - in finding out the facts behind Haggerty’s Marine Corps service.
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness ought to be able to help. If anybody should be prepared to help the people answer hard questions about veterans’ affairs committee members should.
I left a detailed message for committee Chairman Stephen Barrar, a Republican serving parts of Chester and Delaware counties. Barrar lists in his official House of Representatives biography military service in the U.S. Navy from 1973 through 1975. Today I plan to call committee member and Ph.D. Rick Saccone, a Republican serving parts of Allegheny and Washington counties, whose official House biography describes him as being retired from the U.S. Air Force.
Haggerty’s official House biography does not list his military service.
Most committee members are not military veterans so those who are hold a particular position of responsibility. They can and should provide an inside look into the hearts and minds of veterans who often need help.
Haggerty once needed help himself.
A Jan. 20, 2010 newspaper article in the Scranton Times-Tribune headlined, “State House candidate has record of drunken driving, bad checks,” provided a detailed look at a reckless and troubled young man whose record highlights serious issues with alcohol, responsibility and judgment. Haggerty served a work release jail sentence and even wore an anklet bracelet – something that is usually reserved for some state lawmakers only after they serve in the House of Representatives.
Former Pennsylvania Speaker of House Bill DeWeese, who also served in the Marines, is in prison right now.
Public service is as messy as democracy. That’s why transparency and truth must be required from all elected public officials who take an oath to uphold the public trust.
Semper Fi means something special to Marines.
That sacred motto of eternal faith should mean something special to the rest of us as well.