Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steve Oelrich changes his story again, explanation still lacking

Say what?
Third time apparently isn't the charm for Steve Oelrich. His third attempt to explain his military eligibility has left us with just as many unanswered questions as the first two.

As I wrote last week, the Oelrich campaign issued a press release claiming that an injury he received in the line of duty as a police officer was the reason he was ineligible for the draft, but publicly available documents show that the eligibility-ending injury actually happened years before his law enforcement career began

The story got even stranger when the campaign reacted by deleting the press release and replacing it with a new one (back-dated to the date of the original release) as if nothing had ever happened. 

Then, last weekend, the Florida Times-Union ran a story about the controversy, and Oelrich's response raises even more questions:

Steve Oelrich was appalled at a mailer sent by his opponent, Cliff Stearns.
In it, the 12-term incumbent rapped his three Republican opponents for the new 3rd Congressional District for not serving in the military. Stearns served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Oelrich’s camp pounced, and in doing so broke what is widely seen as a steadfast election rule: “If you’re reacting, you’re losing.”
His campaign blasted out an email statement on July 26 saying Stearns was off base. Oelrich, it said, was stabbed in the heart as a beat cop in St. Petersburg, which made him ineligible for military service...
The problem? The campaign got it wrong, and — very quietly — later changed its tune.
On his 1968 application for the Florida Bureau of Law Enforcement, first published on conservative blog Sunshine State Sarah, Oelrich listed a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered during a hunting accident when he was 18, before his career began, as derailing his ability to serve in the military. He was classified as only eligible for the military in times “war or national emergency.” Vietnam was never a declared war.
In an interview with the Times-Union, Oelrich confirmed it was the gunshot wound, not the later stabbing, as the reason.
“I got the draft card in the mail and went to Jacksonville … when I got there and they saw my injury, they said, ‘We can’t have you in the field,’ ” Oelrich said.
He would not address the statement his campaign released, instead referring questions to campaign consultant David Wolfson, who did not return requests seeking comment...

The Times-Union posted both the original July 26th press release that their reporters had received and the updated version from the Oelrich campaign website (see images posted here), and noted that "the rewritten release was not emailed." As I mentioned last week, back-dating press releases is not standard procedure, and I'm not sure who the Oelrich campaign thinks they're fooling.

I'm glad that the Oelrich campaign admitted that the original story was false, but voters in Florida's Third District are still left with several questions. 

How did the original story make it into a press release in the first place? This is too bizarre of a story for a campaign staffer to make up on their own, and the fact that Oelrich's son was quoted just adds to the weirdness. Did Oelrich lie to his own family members about his injuries? Why? Is there something scandalous or unfavorable about the circumstances of the 1963 hunting accident that Oelrich doesn't want to be made public?

Who approved the original press release? Legally, candidates are supposed to approve their own campaign ads ("I'm John Doe, and I approve this message."), so did Oelrich see it before it went out? He knew it was false, so why did he allow it to go out? 

On that note, who approved the revised press release? Why is it back-dated? Why wasn't it sent to the campaign's press list?

As a side note, I'd like to point out that this story is a great illustration how "just a blogger" can change a story and affect an election. 

Oelrich's misrepresentations about the reason for his military ineligibility was completely unnoticed by the mainstream media until I wrote my two posts (here and here), and they were picked up by a few other blogs like Alachua Politix and Florida Political Press, shared on Facebook and Twitter, and then the story found its way into the Florida Times-Union, in a front page story nonetheless!

Cool. I don't see my name in actual print very often!
Because I was in Jacksonville for the RedState Gathering, I was able to buy a print copy of the paper. I don't see my name in print in an actual physical newspaper very often, so that was fun.

What's not fun is contemplating why someone would lie about their military eligibility. 

Unless the Oelrich campaign explains its bizarre actions, it seems that voters in Florida's Third District are left with no choice but to assume that the Oelrich campaign deliberately and cynically attempted to mislead them.

My invitation to the Oelrich campaign remains open: if you have an explanation, send it to me and I'll print it. But I'm not holding my breath.

I stand proudly by my endorsement of Cliff Stearns. He has been a reliably consistent conservative vote, and we have him to thank for uncovering the Solyndra scandal. 

Oelrich's weird behavior during the last week disqualifies him from consideration, and Ted Yoho gives little reason to have confidence in him. Yoho's one chance to vote regarding a tax increase (in an Alachua County Republican Executive Committee resolution), he voted against opposing the tax. I'm not trying to play semantics games here - the REC took a vote on a resolution opposing a new road tax, and Yoho voted against the resolution. Alachua Politix has the details here.

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