Honoring Veterans (By Accusing Others of Dishonoring Them)

(Update 11/5: Republican candidate Geoff Diehl lost his Senate race to Democrat Michael Brady. The House passed the Stolen Valor bill on Wednesday without any attempts by House members to introduce anti-immigrant amendments. The House also passed bills to give Purple Heart recipients free access to state parks and to impose a fine for the removing of commemorative flag holders from graves of veterans and police and fire personnel. Unless the electoral strategy of Mass. Fiscal, Jobs First and their allies has changed significantly, I’d guess their efforts to secure roll call votes on immigrant-related measures will continue, in as misleading a way as necessary.)

Veterans’ Day being next Wednesday, and our Legislature being fond of honoring those who have served our country, it’s expected that tomorrow the House of Representatives will take up the “Stolen Valor” bill, which would make it a crime to claim, falsely, that you have won a military decoration like a Silver Star or a Purple Heart. (It seems that the problem of lying about military service — whether for emotional or financial gain — is disappointingly prevalent.)

The last time the House of Representatives commemorated Veterans’ Day through legislative action, two years ago, great controversy ensued. Back then, the House was getting ready to pass a bill honoring veterans by, for example, establishing a “Support Our Veterans” license plate program and by granting a property tax exemption for certain disabled armed forces members, when GOP Representative Geoff Diehl of Whitman (who, come tomorrow, may or may not be Senator-elect Geoff Diehl) offered an amendment to require that anyone seeking state housing assistance provide a social security number.

The purpose of this amendment, its backers claimed, was to ensure that non-citizens be prevented from securing housing aid ahead of, and therefore at the expense of, veterans. Whether this amendment was merely a solution in search of a problem was a question that its champions were — and remain — deeply uninterested in. Their only point was to fashion an occasion in which it could be claimed, however implausibly, that members voting against the amendment were dishonoring veterans.

Because the Diehl amendment had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of the bill — veterans — it was ruled out of order. However, the amendment’s backers, undaunted in their quest for a recorded vote, called for a vote on the ruling that the amendment was out of order. The result, a 126-29 vote in support of the ruling, gave them what they wanted — the scandalous (if entirely specious) news that 126 members of the House had voted to give priority for state housing assistance to undocumented immigrants over veterans. The vote was the centerpiece of a flyer distributed in 20 legislative districts the next year by the Mass. Fiscal Alliance and its sister PAC, Jobs First Massachusetts, who were targeting Democratic incumbents in 2014, and who, as it happens, are busy right now supporting Representative Diehl in his campaign for the State Senate.

So stay tuned tomorrow to see if the effort by the House to honor veterans by passing the Stolen Valor bill includes an effort by some of its members to accuse others of dishonoring them.

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