Josh Butner, a military veteran and former Navy SEAL, is under fire after making comments asserting that prior service should be a requirement for running for office. The statement was considered a direct shot at his Democratic opponent, but has also stirred up a larger controversy, as not everyone is eligible or able to serve.
During an interview, as reported by Task and Purpose, Butner said, “When you look at anybody for any political office, you should look at their past experience.”
“I served for 23 years,” Butner stated. “It shows dedication, and you’ve been exposed to foreign policy at the tip of the spear.”
“I learned a lot about cultures, in conflict and cooperation,” he added. “It should be a requirement to have served to even run.”
Butner’s comments were considered a direct shot at fellow Democrat and political opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar, who has not served as a member of the military.
Both candidates are challenging Marine Corps veteran, Rep. Duncan Hunter.
Many people on social media interpreted Butner’s statements to mean that he believes only military veterans should be eligible to run for office, a perspective they deemed exclusionary.
Other veterans also took issue with the comments.
“As veterans, we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and that includes the right of Americans to seek public office,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, a Marine Corps veteran.
“Statements like that only demonstrate that, as a candidate, his bid for Congress has clouded his judgment and sets a discriminatory bar for people like those who are incapable of serving or who have been ejected from service as a result of unconstitutional discrimination from serving in Congress.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy was kicked out of the Marine Corps under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that was previously in place.
Democrat Matt Strabone, who is running for county assessor, responded to Butner in a tweet, saying, “The hell is wrong with you?”
He later added, “I’m open to letting you explain yourself, Josh, but this isn’t ancient Sparta. If you meant what you said, that’s incredibly troubling.”
Butner later released a statement clarifying his position.
“When I referred to service, I mean some form of National Service,” he said. “National Service could consist of the Peace Corps, a similar form of national domestic service, or the military. This sentiment is what was meant by JFK when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’ I’m glad my comment has at least sparked a conversation about the importance of service to our country.”
Campa-Najjar believes Butner was referring to military service only.
In a tweet, he said, “That means ppl with disabilities, obesity, or LGBT ppl during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would’ve been prohibited from running.”
Currently, to be a member of the Congressional House of Representatives, the only requirements are that the individual must be at least 25 years old, a US citizen for a minimum of seven years, and a resident of their district’s state.
If national service was a requirement, in any form, many current members of Congress would no longer be eligible.