State Rep. Graham Hunt of East Pierce County has stumbled into a mess that could stain his reputation and complicate any hope of getting reelected this year. Unfortunately, it also could overshadow the work he’s done for veterans, such as securing money to preserve the Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery in Orting.
Hunt, a former Arizona Air National Guardsman, is trying to contain the damage after the Seattle Times reported he’d claimed combat experience he can’t prove and taken credit for medals he can’t document.
The Orting Republican also claimed to be one of the subjects in a dramatic war photo at a scene where he wasn’t present. The original image of two soldiers in Iraq was doctored, then posted on Hunt’s Facebook page in 2014. He blamed a campaign volunteer, but the buck stops with him.
Even if Hunt’s constituents give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he was just being sloppy, the first-term state lawmaker still has much to answer for. Any politician who represents a deep veteran community like Pierce County had better make sure he’s squared away on all information related to his military service.
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A cry has arisen on national websites and social media, calling Hunt a perpetrator of stolen valor. Congress established this as a federal crime in 2013 in cases where self-aggrandizers seek to profit by claiming military credentials they never earned. It’s a good law that defends the integrity of the uniform so many Americans fought and died wearing.
The Hunt mess raises questions about whether there’s a difference between stolen and embellished valor. He did serve his country and has disclosed some records (and lesser medals) showing he was based somewhere in the Middle East and fulfilled his duties in good standing.
Some of the most reprehensible cases of stolen valor involve civilian frauds trying to gain money and adulation while masquerading with stripes they never earned on BDUs they never wore.
The most incomprehensible cases involve current or former service members who inflate resumes that were already honorable. Hunt can count himself among the less than 1 percent of Americans willing to sign up for military service. He apparently conducted himself professionally as a senior airman overseas. Why would anyone think that’s not good enough?
After the Times made its inquiries, Hunt removed from his website all references to medals he couldn’t prove he earned. (He blames poor automation of old Air Force personnel records.) He’s maintains in a House Republican statement that’s he’s a combat vet who went on multiple deployments including to Iraq and Afghanistan; however, his House website biography, which he changed after the Times contacted him, is more vague on those details.
Hunt has used Facebook to float conspiracy theories about why his enemies suddenly want to take him down. “I've taken the lead on the transgender bathroom issue, I've taken the lead on the pro-life issue, I've taken the lead on the pro-gun issue, and I visited on a fact-finding mission to Oregon.”
He’d be wise to set aside toilet politics and trips to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, for now. If he has nothing to hide, he should let the public see his full military service record, including evidence that might corroborate another of his claims – that he was wounded in action. He declined to let the Times see those records.
A question was posed early in this editorial: Is there a difference between stolen and embellished valor? The answer is no, as Hunt might be learning the hard way.
The problem with a half truth, according to the great writer/columnist William Safire, is that it often results in a public “half belief.” Or perhaps an old Yiddish proverb says it best: “A half truth is a whole lie.”