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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Duluth Sign Controversy at Steve Kelley's Campaign Office

The Duluth News Tribune has a story about a controversy over a sign placed in Steve Kelley's Duluth Campaign office. Michael Brodkorb/Minnesota Democrats Exposed is promoting the story.

Potential U.S. Army recruits face an unofficial and grim reminder of what joining the service could lead to at Duluth's downtown recruiting station.

In the window of the office next to the recruiting station, a sign lists the numbers of U.S. servicemen and women killed or wounded in the Iraq war.

"Iraq," the sign reads. "Remember the Fallen Heroes." Next to it are two green-and-white, "Steve Kelley for Governor" campaign signs.

The war sign was placed in the window by Scott Cameron, a campaign volunteer and disabled Vietnam War veteran. Cameron was wounded when he was shot in the back while riding in a helicopter above the Mekong Delta in 1969.

And despite a request from the nearby recruiting station commander, Army Staff Sgt. Gary Capan, to take the war sign down, it will stay up, a spokeswoman for Kelley's campaign said Wednesday.

Capan told the News Tribune the sign is troubling for some of his recruiters, including one who recently returned from Iraq.

"It kind of disturbed her and it is a little unsettling, especially for people wanting to join the military," Capan said. "It makes it so the troops are just a number."

Two recruiters working Wednesday said they didn't particularly like the sign but weren't letting it get to them.

There was no real way to measure whether the sign had any adverse effect on recruiting efforts, Capan said. "He told me it's not a political thing," Capan said of Cameron. "Then why is it in a political office? I'm thinking of putting up my own sign that says how many troops have come home safely."

Capan said his recruiters already endure the antiwar protesters who converge outside his office each Monday.

"I don't really want any qualms with the people next door," Capan said. "They seem really nice, but I just think it's ridiculous."

Cameron carries around a 1969 article from a Spokane, Wash., newspaper that features a quote from him. "I didn't want to be vocal with the antiwar thing because I didn't want to disrespect the troops," Cameron said. "We had a draft and things were different then, but I didn't say anything -- made that mistake and that war went on for another six years. I'm not going to make that mistake again."

An advocate for veterans, Cameron said he does support his armed service members and taking care of them when they come home.

And that's Kelley's stand, too, his spokeswoman Jessica Null said.

"He supports making sure everybody has accurate information," Null said. "He understands the people at the recruiting office are veterans, too, and he has a responsibility to them as well."

Kelley believes Minnesota should do better by its veterans when they return home, especially in the area of providing educational benefits, Null said.

The campaign office wasn't selected because it was next to the recruiting station and Kelley, a Democratic-Farmer-Labor state senator from Hopkins, is not pushing an antiwar campaign, Null said. "It was just a coincidence - the office location."

Earlier in the day there was a comment on Michael Brodkorb's blog that linked to the Duluth News Tribune poll on the topic. The link to the poll posted by "Erik" who is from the Duluth area and also has a blog was directly to a yes vote that said "yes, take the sign down". Hopefully the Duluth News Tribune will post about his effort to manipulate the poll in subsequent coverage of this issue. Now the comment has been removed from the Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog. Minnesota Campaign Report has more.

Erik is now gloating about having readers that went to the poll.

Hey, I do have readers!
Hey, I do have readers! Here's an exerpt from today's News-Tribune (emphasis mine):

Readers of the News Tribune, responding to an online survey that asked the question, "Do you think Steve Kelley's campaign office should take down the tally of Iraq dead next to the Army recruiting center?" indicated this region might not be as evenly divided as some might think. In an unusually large response, 60 percent of those responding (743) as of 5 p.m. Thursday indicated the sign should be removed while 40 percent said it should stay. While such surveys are unscientific, the response is something the Kelley campaign might want to take into account on the political level.

Actually Michael Brodkorb/MDE has readers - and I assume many went to the poll from Erik's comments on the MDE website, rather than from Erik's blog. I went to look at the poll - and noticed that without intending to vote, my vote had been registered a particular way. I did not go to the poll from Erik's blog.

At the top of Erik's blog is a number for his insurance agency. If Erik uses these sorts of sales tactics to sell insurance, then I would be wary of buying from him. I'd encourage Erik to come clean on his blog about linking to the specific vote, rather than linking to the poll if he wants to have credibility.

I contacted the Steve Kelley Campaign for comment. This is from Jessica Null, Kelley's communications director:

No, I don't think the war is an issue for the governor's race, and we're not making the war a campaign issue--only in respect to how we take care of the troops coming home (education, health care, jobs, etc). But as far as the attention that the sign has created, following is Sen. Kelley's personal response to an email he received:

I appreciate your message. It is important for me to hear from all points of view. As the media has, I hope, reported, a Vietnam veteran who does volunteer work for the campaign asked to put the sign up. He assured me that it would be accurate and I believe he has worked to make sure it is. It is an accident of timing and availability that my campaign office is next to the recruiting office.

For Scott, the sign is a tribute to the soldiers who are casualties in this war. For me, it is also an issue of protecting the freedom of speech that so many Americans have given their lives to defend. A free and democratic society should not be afraid of accurate information being displayed in a quiet way anywhere in our country.

I did not approve the posting of the sign for political purposes. I did it because to do otherwise would have conflicted with my principled belief in free speech and honest debate.

Developing. . .

Correction: The link Erik from Duluth posted was to a "yes" vote on the poll, as in "yes, take the sign down".

UPDATE: As of 4:27 PM on Saturday December 10,
Republican Minnesota links to the Duluth News Tribune poll with the yes option checked.