A statement by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson was intended to show that her Democratic opponent was not part of mainstream military thinking about gays serving openly, but also generated its own controversy Friday.
On Thursday, after Tommy Sowers had declared that he supported repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law regarding homosexuals in uniform, Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, said she opposed the move and preferred to wait for a Defense Department study on how the change would impact the Armed Forces. She also said that many field commanders questioned the repeal, adding: "Since Sowers has never commanded anybody, he might have a different perspective."
Sowers on Friday held a telephone news conference to dispute that statement. A former Army major in the Green Berets, Sowers said he commanded a platoon in Kosovo, was second in command of a company there and commanded an "Operational Detachment Alpha," a 12-man squad commonly known as an A-Team, in Iraq.
"I was in command of enlisted men and women for years during my time as an officer. For anyone to say otherwise is either a purposeful misrepresentation of the facts, or a complete disregard for accuracy in public statements by an elected official," Sowers said.
Emerson, in reply, said she didn't have Sowers' biography in front of her when she made the statement but that Sowers' decision to bring attention to the remark is an attempt to cloud the issue.
"Tommy Sowers is absolutely entitled to his opinion that gays should be able to serve openly in the military," Emerson said in a statement issued by her campaign. "Questioning my respect for his service is a cynical attempt to divert attention from a position he has suddenly discovered is out-of-step with the values of our congressional district. His belief that gays should openly serve doesn't affect my opinion of his honorable service or the honorable service of every American in uniform. But despite his experience as a soldier, Sowers thinks the decision about 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' should be made by liberal politicians and not by the command leaders of our armed services, and I disagree with him."
Sowers is the lone Democrat seeking to unseat Emerson, a seven-term incumbent. Emerson is being challenged in the Republican primary Aug. 3 by Bob Parker, a Texas County farmer. Rick Vandeven is the Libertarian Party candidate, and Larry Bill of Jackson is seeking a spot on the ballot as an independent.