Democrats Use Pro-Lawson Veterans to Turn Steve Southerland into an Ungrateful American
Around the State
A week before Election Day the Florida Democratic Party makes the contentious Steve Southerland-Al Lawson race all about veterans' dissatisfaction with how their congressman is representing them.
And they do it by pulling a dandy -- no, call it a dirty -- political bait-and-switch stunt.
Here's how it goes down:
The party flacks call a press conference. They tell the media in advance that they want to expose a botched-burial case that shows Steve Southerland's funeral home disrespected a veteran eight years ago.
Eight years ago.
"Before Congressman Southerland addresses veterans (in Panama City) tonight, he should take responsibility and apologize to the Gaff family and those who served alongside him for the egregious indignity Southerland inflicted upon Mr. Gaffe (sic) and his family."
So the press come a-runnin'. Remember, in the late going this 2nd Congressional District tussle is tighter than a new tube sock. Reporters and photographers, myself included, show up thinking they're going to see the family of Army veteran Thomas S. Gaff, hear from the lips of an aggrieved son or daughter or grandchild what happened back in 2004. But, no.
Nobody from the Gaff family shows.
There was never any intention that they would.
Why? Because there was a lawsuit followed by a settlement -- in which the Gaffs and the funeral home signed an agreement not to talk publicly about the case.
What followed instead was the switcheroo.
It was an hour-long rally for Al Lawson -- during which only one of the nine veterans present, Mildred Smith, said a word about Thomas Gaff -- and even she gave him little more than a passing mention.
Prominent among the group was Lawson friend Dale Landry, president of the Tallahassee NAACP and a retired career military veteran. Landry made a stirring speech that the United States government promised when he signed up to pay for his medical expenses until he was 65 and then give him Medicare. But, he said, "Southerland wants to break that promise" by turning Medicare into vouchers.
The mostly Vietnam-era veterans on hand berated Southerland's voting record, claiming he said no to $28.3 million for medical and prosthetic research, and no to $75 million for veterans' housing assistance. There wasn't any context to their claims -- just the claims. For these votes, they said, the congressman received a 0 percent rating from the Vietnam Veterans of America.
When Southerland discovered Tuesday what had been going on at the Press Center in Tallahassee, he released this statement:
“It’s deplorable that Al Lawson would sink so low as to deceive our military heroes in an attempt to score cheap political points. As a member of Congress, my most solemn duty is to ensure that our veterans and active duty military personnel receive the care and support from their government they deserve.
“That’s why I voted to improve educational and employment opportunities for returning troops, while opposing the debt limit deal that would have cut $500 billion in defense funding. I am also proud to have worked with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to introduce legislation that puts our veterans and active duty troops first when meeting spending obligations during a government shutdown. Our veterans deserve leadership from their representatives, and all Al Lawson has proven is that he’ll fall right in line with the Obama-Pelosi smear machine."
When asked, all of the veterans at the Al Lawson rally admitted they had never been denied assistance by Southerland's office, in fact had never asked for any. And only one had an answer when asked why veterans waited until a week before voting Day to protest the congressman's record. "I've been saying this right along," said Tom Baxter.
Northwest Florida Republican operative Joe W. Wainright told me, "Look, this is eleventh hour shenanigans. I can go out and in two hours, bring you back a dozen veterans who think Southerland is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
"You've fallen victim to the politics of a desperate Democratic Party," he said. "Everything the Florida Democrats do right now is close your eyes, fling the ball into the end zone hail-Mary-style, and pray."
I don't know if what I did was fall victim. Maybe. I certainly did have a chance to see old-fashioned, hard-ball politics Florida-style.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.