- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

Do the democratic pleas of American soldiers, who happen to live in the nation’s capital, fall on deaf ears? It seems so.

Spc. Emory Kosh, Spc. Marcus Gray and Spc. Isaac Lewis, who as members of the 299th Engineer Company were part of the first wave of soldiers to enter Iraq in March 2003, last week asked for the full voting rights in the U.S. Congress for which they fought and which they deserve.

The soldiers’ simple request is basic training in American democracy, for which they risk their lives — every citizen has a right to a vote and a voice in their government.

The D.C. soldiers emphasized that they fought for a year so Iraqi citizens could hold elections while D.C. residents still have no vote in the House or the Senate. They want the same rights here at home as they were fighting for abroad.

However, when the 109th Congress votes this session on important issues from funding for the war to funding for schools and health care, their congressional representative, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, must stand mute.

“As our troops now fight to assure elections for representatives of the Iraqi people on Jan. 30, we ask for the courtesy of a few minutes to speak with you about our congressional representation here, beginning with the return of the District’s vote in the Committee of the Whole,” the trio wrote in letters to House leaders Dec. 28.

The soldiers requested that Mrs. Norton’s vote on the House floor be restored in the 109th Congress, which convened last Tuesday. The nonvoting delegate was granted the vote in 1993, but it was rescinded when Republicans gained control of the House in 1995.

“Our country and most democracies would find the withdrawal of voting rights intolerable anywhere in the world,” Mrs. Norton said. “Imagine if somebody tried to take back Baghdad’s vote after the election.”

Further, Mrs. Norton said the D.C. war veterans “focused on the one vote we could have tomorrow; everything else is way over the horizon.”

Mr. Kosh, who now works in the delegate’s office, said the rules change would be less than Iraqi citizens will have come Jan. 30, but it would be “a good beginning” toward full democracy.

In one report, Mr. Kosh said his fellow soldiers in Iraq were shocked when they learned that residents of the nation’s capital do not have a vote in Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, met with the soldiers last week and rightfully stated that they deserved a vote. “They challenge the conscience of this Congress,” she said of the D.C. soldiers’ stories.

No matter, Mrs. Pelosi is powerless to act.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, is the man. However, he did not even respond to the D.C. soldiers’ request for “a minute” before the Jan. 3 press conference that also was held to honor their military service in Iraq.

Subsequently, a member of the speaker’s staff called to get the soldiers’ phone numbers to “arrange” a future meeting, Mrs. Norton said. To date, no meeting has been scheduled.

Mrs. Norton was surprised when the three soldiers were not offered even the courtesy of sitting down with a staffer. “They feel something of a mission, and they’re clear they’ve done something beyond the rest of us,” she said. Each of the young soldiers, primarily involved in clearing minefields in Iraq, was called up to duty while attending various colleges.

Mr. Kosh, 22, who was honorably discharged from the Army Reserve, is a graduate of Eastern High School, a husband and a father of two. He said working with Mrs. Norton made him even more conscious of the denial of full democracy in the District. He was proud to fight in Iraq, but “I am not prepared to sit as an employee here in the House of Representatives while every member answers the bell to vote except my congress-woman.”

Spc. Gray, 22, a graduate of Ballou High School who noted that his father served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, said, “We expect equal treatment, and the Army tries hard to see that all soldiers are treated equally.

“However, I want equal treatment at home as well. I want the same voting representation in the House and the Senate as other soldiers….This step would make me as proud as I will be to see the Iraqi people go to the polls on January 30,” he said.

Spc. Lewis, 26, a graduate of Dunbar High School, said, “I was prepared in Iraq for whatever came, including service in a border-breach squad charged with clearing mines and anything else that got in the way to prepare the first troops to cross the border.

“That was my duty, and I would do my duty again. However, our country also has important obligations to assure every citizen that his representative will have a chance to vote before that citizen goes to war for his country. My buddies and I from the 299th did not have the benefit of that vote. I come to Congress today to ask for that vote before we are deployed again,” he said.

“They haven’t given up,” Mrs. Norton said of the young D.C. soldiers.

Their request is simple enough: They merely want what is the birthright of every American citizen. And, if they must fight for Iraqi democracy, they should be afforded full American democracy at home.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. But someone has to hear your plea in the first place. Is anyone listening, let alone acting, to remedy this hypocrisy? Shame on them if they continue to turn a deaf ear.

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