July | August 2017

By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor

Washington State Rep. Jay Rodne

Time in Legislature: 11 years | Service Branch: U.S. Marine Corps
Rank: Colonel | Time in Military: 26 years
Washington state Rep. Jay Rodne thinks his time in the military has given him invaluable leadership experience. He has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.
“Oh absolutely,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s given me a perspective that I think is unique. It’s given me the ability to deal with a broad diversity of issues with lots and lots of different people.
“Quite honestly, a lot of those interpersonal relationship skills are very applicable to legislative service. So much of what we do in the legislature is dependent on personal relationships. It’s dependent upon one’s ability to form relationships and to meet different needs of different individuals and different constituencies.”
Rodne said in Washington, there are only seven or eight veterans serving in the House. But, he said, he’s more worried about the lack of veterans in Congress.
“I think that is a significant concern at the federal level,” Rodne said. “You’ve got very few representatives and U.S. senators having served and yet they’re formulating policy and enacting legislation impacting the armed forces on a national level.”

South Carolina State Rep. James Smith

Time in Legislature: 19 years | Service Branch: U.S. Army
Rank: Captain | Time in Military: 19 years | Decorations: Purple Heart, Bronze Star
South Carolina state Rep. James Smith said he thinks it’s important to have veterans of current conflicts bringing their ideas and perspectives to legislatures. He did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where an improvised explosive device blew up his truck, costing him his hearing in his right ear.
“I’m very proud to be part of that community,” Smith said. “I do foresee a dwindling number of veterans in the general assembly. … When I first got there, (there were) a number of sitting legislators/active guardsmen. There were nearly a dozen that I can recall when I first arrived. Now we’re down to two.”
Smith said it’s important for all voices to be heard in the state capitols
“They all bring their experiences to bear on the work that we do on behalf of the people we serve,” he said. “In the case of a veteran, I think there’s a very specific culture that is brought to bear, which is important.
“It’s a culture of service and commitment that gave everything, that brought to life our rights and protections and liberties. It is so fundamental, I think, to who we are as a nation, that I think it is absolutely critical we have a veterans’ perspective in the general assembly. All of this (in the state constitution) would be just mere words on a page if we didn’t have the men and women willing to give up everything to make them real.”

New Hampshire State Sen. Sharon Carson

Time in Legislature: 15 years | Service Branch: U.S. Army, Retired
Rank: Sergeant First Class | Time in Military: 17 years
New Hampshire state Sen. Sharon Carson said she believes legislatures are losing something due to the shrinking number of veterans in their ranks.
“When I was first elected back in 2000,” she said, “there were a number of World War II vets that were serving in the (New Hampshire) legislature. In fact, one of my favorites was Rep. Alf Jacobson of New London, who was a survivor of Iwo Jima. And every year on the anniversary of the battle, he would get up and he would speak about his experiences, just to remind people of what he had gone through and things we should never forget.
“Since that time, the representative has passed on and those stories are slowly being forgotten. We need young veterans to get into the legislature here in New Hampshire.”
Carson said even though there are fewer veterans serving in state legislatures and Congress every year, she thinks the numbers soon will start picking up.
“We welcome our veterans home with open arms, but then you look at some of the bills that are coming through in Congress and a lot of vets are unhappy because they see the federal government trying to balance the budget on the backs of vets,” she said. “I think slowly but surely, more and more veterans are going to start paying attention. I think they already are. I think there was just a lull and I really think these folks are going to start coming up to serve again.”