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Veterans add to diversity

My View • Military experience would be valuable on City Hall staffs
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Veterans — who were honored in Portland last year by this traveling replica of Washington, D.C.’s Vietnam memorial — bring key experience and a sense of duty to civil service. Freelance writer Richard F. LaMountain says it’s a shame there aren’t more of them on city leaders’ staffs.

Portland’s City Council is united in one belief: the need to foster civic “diversity.” From VisionPDX and Community Connect to the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy and beyond, our commissioners have pledged Portland to a policy of racial “inclusion.” Nowhere is that commitment more evident than in their City Hall staffs. As the commissioners’ Web sites reveal, each staff boasts a proportion of racial minorities that exceeds that of Portland’s minority population at large (as per recent U.S. Census figures, some 25 percent). Mayor Tom Potter is especially keen on “diversity”: Last year Oregonian columnist S. Renee Mitchell gushed that Potter “has been heralding inclusiveness since his campaign” and “has hired a significant number of ethnic minorities — still in their 20s and early 30s.” This raises the question: What attributes other than racial ones do the commissioners consider important — or not important — to include on their staffs? In September, I surveyed Portland’s five commissioners to determine how many military veterans (not including the commissioners themselves) serve in each of their City Hall offices. What I found: At the time, of the five offices’ 50 combined members, only two (both in Potter’s office) were veterans. This is astounding. Historically, elected officials have recognized the relevance of military service to dedicated, competent performance in civilian government; some, indeed, have considered military service the most important attribute of all. Why? Because to answer America’s call to military service is to fulfill citizenship’s noblest responsibility. It is a selfless and sacrificial act — an act one undertakes in the interest of his or her nation and people, and that easily can send that person into harm’s way. Via military service, veterans learn that America’s freedom is not a naturally occurring condition — and, even less, an entitlement — but something earned and defended by the blood, sweat and tears of its hardiest citizens. A sense of duty that leads one to military service translates readily to public service in the civilian sphere. On the staff of an elected official — a staff that exists to serve fellow citizens — a veteran’s strength, character and love of country will be among its most valuable assets. By his mere presence, a veteran will be a constant reminder to an elected official that he is charged always (as per author Walter Berns) “to cultivate patriotism, the ultimate duty.” Why, then, so few veterans in City Hall? Part of the reason may be this: When choosing their staffs, “diversity”-smitten commissioners have considered applicants’ races more important than the breadth of their experience — including, even, the experience of military service. This shouldn’t be. Unlike skin color, veteran status is earned. Portland is home to thousands of veterans who have the drive, qualifications and intelligence — and, above all, the demonstrated patriotism — to serve our city well. This Veterans Day, no less vigorously than they have recruited racial minorities, Portland’s commissioners should resolve to seek out veterans to serve on their City Hall staffs. Richard F. LaMountain is a Portland freelance writer.