District 31 state Senate candidate Matt Richardson's website and a mail piece he planned to send out to 48,000 homes this week refer to the state Senate candidate as a veteran.
THE CLAIM: Both Richardson’s campaign website and mailer put the spotlight on an endorsement statement from Ron Weigelt, a Democrat who was defeated in the primary election when voters advanced Republicans Richardson and Sen. Pam Roach to the general election.
“While his opponents sling mud at him and his family, I have personally verified the truth and his record of service before making this endorsement,” Weigelt’s statement reads, in part. “As a fellow Veteran and former City Council member, I see in Matt Richardson the drive and sincerity we need in the Senate.”
WHAT WEIGELT SAYS: Wei-gelt told The News Tribune this week that he thought Richardson was in the Navy Reserve. Weigelt then sent an e-mail to Richardson asking him to remove the material from his website. He said, “You should have corrected me when I referred to you as a ‘fellow veteran’. I believe you have intentionally tried to give the perception that you are in the Navy when you are not. Not telling me you are not a veteran was deceptive and clearly a lie by omission. I also never endorsed you.”
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THE FACTS: Richardson, a Sumner city councilman, has worked as a military contractor. He says that as an employee of Central Texas College , a community college that contracts with the Navy to place instructors on board vessels, he has done one assignment: a three-month stint in 2006 on the Stennis teaching subjects such as sociology, government and philosophy.
WHAT RICHARDSON SAYS: He has told me and others repeatedly that he is not a veteran or a member of the military.
When he announced his candidacy, his campaign literature referred to his military ties this way: “He also holds a DoD security clearance as an Adjunct Professor of Government & Philosophy for the US Navy’s NCPACE program based in Bremerton. He was last assigned to the USS Stennis (CVN 74).”
When Richardson describes the Navy experience publicly, he often says he has Navy security clearance, he takes orders from a Navy officer, and he is paid at the pay grade of lieutenant commander. When asked, he acknowledges he’s not a lieutenant commander or any other kind of officer.
On Wednesday, Richardson distanced himself from the Weigelt statement. “Whether he thinks or not that I’m an actual member of the military, I never pretended that I was an actual member of the military,” he said.
So why include an inaccurate statement on his mailer and website?
Richardson answered that several ways. At first he said he talked to Weigelt about the confusion, and Weigelt insisted Richardson’s service makes him a veteran: “He said, ‘Well if you worked in the Navy and you have orders for the Navy,’ and he said, ‘It’s OK if I use that term, right?’”
Richardson backed off a few minutes later, saying they didn’t actually discuss the finer points of whether he was a veteran: “He never asked. I just assumed he knew. He goes, ‘So what do you do for the Navy?’ and I told him, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’”
Although he’s not a “literal” veteran, Richardson said, others might consider his time on a military vessel to be military service . “I’ve been termed as what you might call a “small-v veteran,” he said.
BOTTOM LINE: Richardson isn’t a veteran.
AND ONE MORE THING: There’s a side issue here of whether Weigelt really endorsed Richardson. It’s not insignificant, considering it’s the only endorsement touted on Richardson’s website. Weigelt did give Richardson a statement praising him, and Richardson showed me an e-mail he sent to Weigelt at the time calling the statement an endorsement.
But Weigelt, who’s now running a write-in campaign for House, told The News Tribune last month he had considered supporting Richardson in the Senate race but decided to urge his supporters to write in another candidate. He’s now supporting write-in candidate Brian L. Gunn, he said.