Challenger Steve Sarvi says Kline, an ex-Marine, is no friend to veterans. But Kline's campaign says the assertion is ridiculous.
As his campaign to unseat Republican Congressman John Kline moves into its final weeks, Democratic challenger Steve Sarvi is aiming straight at what has always seemed his opponent's greatest strength: his image as a Marine Corps colonel, a ramrod-straight military man representing a conservative district.
Sarvi, himself an Iraq War veteran, claims that Kline is getting rock-bottom ratings from -- of all people -- veterans groups, for his votes on issues affecting them.
"People need to know," said campaign spokeswoman Bridget Cusick, "how Mr. Kline has treated 'his own.'"
The Kline campaign disagrees.
"Steve Sarvi is intentionally deceiving Minnesotans as to the congressman's views," said spokesman Troy Young. "He's choosing to introduce himself using tactics straight out of the playbook of [2006 Democratic nominee] Coleen [Rowley], who failed miserably."
Sarvi has launched on his website a series of attacks on Kline's record when it comes to veterans. But a television advertisement zeroes in on two of those claims:
• In a Congressional hearing in February, the ad says, Kline suggested that the military is paying too much attention to post-traumatic stress syndrome; and,
• Kline "keeps voting against veterans," with the worst rating from the advocacy group Disabled American Veterans of any Minnesotan in the U.S. House.
The first claim misconstrues what Kline meant, Young said. A transcript shows he starts by saying it's "very appropriate" that the government has been "placing a lot of emphasis on traumatic brain injury and PTSD." Then he asks whether that emphasis has "pull[ed] us away" from a concentration on the huge number of leg and arm injuries, including loss of extremities.
"Should we look at putting some more emphasis and resources into that effort?" he asks. That isn't meant, Young said, to downplay the importance of PTSD.
As for the ratings of members of Congress, Young said, it's true that from 2003 to mid-2006, Kline cast a string of votes opposite of what the disabled vets group was urging. But it was just a handful, and included votes on the entire federal budget -- hardly pro- or anti- any one group. In the past two years, he said, Kline has voted with the group's wishes 100 percent -- five times.
The words that viewers see onscreen -- "Disabled American Veterans rank Kline WORST among Minnesota House members" -- could likely be said by other advocacy groups seeking funds from the federal government, he said, since no one disputes that Kline is, with Michelle Bachman, one of the two most fiscally conservative Minnesotans in Congress.
Sarvi also criticizes Kline's votes against banning interrogation methods such as waterboarding, which Sarvi feels puts American soldiers at higher risk when they get captured, and against an attempt to lengthen soldiers' rest periods between tours of duty.
"Rep. Kline voted against guaranteeing our soldiers even half the normal amount of time between deployments," Sarvi writes.
Young said of the two votes: "In both cases, Mr. Kline voted against bills that would tie our military commanders' hands."
The broader point he's trying to make, Sarvi said, is that Kline could be a key point person on veterans affairs as an ex-Marine serving on the Armed Services Committee.
"He needs to be a partner with the military, not just 'whatever they say, goes.' The hands-off approach reminds me of the same approach to Wall Street, and look where that got us."
For his part, Young points to an award Kline received earlier this year from the National Guard, honoring his success with his so-called Yellow Ribbon bill, aimed at making the Minnesota National Guard's pathbreaking "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" reintegration program available to soldiers in other states.
"We have a letter thanking him for his support," Young said. "He has a son serving in Afghanistan. It doesn't make sense that he wouldn't be doing everything he could for veterans."
The topic is expected to come up in a series of at least four debates during the last four weeks of the campaign, including an Oct. 13 session before the Carver County Chamber of Commerce.
David Peterson • 952-882-9023