8th District candidates split on military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy

Friday, May 28, 2010
Tommy Sowers

Democratic congressional contender Tommy Sowers, a former Army officer, on Thursday endorsed plans to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, however, said she opposes repeal and opposes allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

In an interview as Sowers was campaigning at the 100-Mile Yard Sale along Highway 25, the 11-year Special Forces veteran and former West Point professor said the policy "is an insult to the professionalism of the military."

Members of Congress are preparing to vote on a compromise approach to repealing the policy that allows gays to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret while those who do not are discharged from service. The Murphy Amendment would delay implementation of the repeal until after a Defense Department commission reports on whether repeal would impair fighting ability or recruitment.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Sowers is challenging Emerson, a seven-term incumbent Republican from Cape Girardeau. Emerson said from Washington she opposes repeal of "don't ask don't tell" in part because the Pentagon study is not complete.

In addition, Emerson said her opposition is based on comments from field commanders "who have said that in very difficult situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, in combat jobs, that it is beneficial to have knowledge of that because there can be distractions. Since Sowers has never commanded anybody, he might have a different perspective."

Sowers is a former U.S. Army major and served tours of duty in Iraq. He said the Murphy Amendment allows the Defense Department to determine how and whether a repeal will be implemented.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was enacted in 1993 when President Bill Clinton sought to overturn the ban on gays in the military by executive order. Sowers said he has known gay soldiers and they were "forced to lie" to keep their jobs.

As he campaigned, Sowers stopped at vendors selling their wares along Highway 25 to introduce himself. At each stop, he repeated his main complaints about Emerson, that she is too much a "typical politician doing typical things, spending money we don't have and showing up at ribbon-cuttings."

Voters are upset with Washington and many are ready to throw out incumbents, he said. "It is amazing to me how party-neutral it is."

Emerson said she, too, is worried about deficits. On Thursday, she said she successfully led an effort to block a spending bill that was loaded with extras such as $230 million to hire new IRS agents to implement the federal health care overhaul bill. "We were successful today in stopping that when we're supposed to be just funding" the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At one stop, Lyman King was selling guns and other goods with his brother, Gene King, and cousin Charles King. After Sowers left, Lyman King said Emerson "has been in there too long. I don't like somebody to be there forever."

Further down Highway 25 in Delta, Kathy Anthony said she's happy with Emerson. "To me, she has done a pretty good job."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Delta, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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