opinion by Scott Shackelford
Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may or may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
A decided minority of Arkansas Third District voters do not much care for U.S. Rep. Steve Womack’s Republican politics. Opponents see little besides a hyper-partisan who will someday look to parlay his conservative-to-the-core voting record into either a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, or perhaps a U.S. Senate campaign in the distant/not-too-distant future.
But that doesn’t mean, based on the available evidence, that Womack doesn’t deserve a second term representing an overwhelmingly conservative voting bloc in Washington D.C. Certainly not when his direct competition, if recent press reports are accurate, should be pondering the extent to which continuing his million-to-one-shot campaign makes sense.
Mind you, I write this having never met Ken Aden, the Democrat challenging Womack for the right to represent us in the hallowed halls of Congress. He might be a swell guy – a great guy even. His military record proves he deserves our thanks and respect. But Aden was already sure to lose to Womack (who has far more name recognition, political seasoning, and campaign cash than his opponent) before allegations of resume padding surfaced on June 28.
As things stand now, Aden would be doing the state Democratic Party a big favor by simply dropping out of the race – before things get embarrassing. Stepping aside would allow fellow Democrats campaigning in other important state and local races to avoid questions about a congressional candidate who still has a lot of queries about his past to answer.
Late in June the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette disclosed that Aden has in the past described himself as a former Green Beret, which is apparently not true. Aden has also previously claimed a degree from Arkansas State University, but that footnote is said to come as news to ASU officials. (Editor's note: The Aden campaign did on Friday — June 29 — release military records indicating he served as a special forces weapons sergeant. The campaign also released this response to allegations against Aden.)
Those are tough allegations to survive. Either a candidate for public office did or did not achieve a specific military rank that suggests a high level of honor and distinction. Either a candidate for public office did or did not attend college and receive an actual degree from a given institution.
Here’s what’s strange: Aside from these claims, Aden is already in possession of an impressive military record that he has every reason to boast about. His campaign website describes him as a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, a combat infantryman whose service record stretches from Egypt to Iraq, and a long list of military medals he should be highly proud to call his own.
In terms of issues, Candidate Aden is someone Democrats could easily support. He is pro-choice, supports organized labor, abhors notions of privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and backs a “green energy economy in Northwest Arkansas.” Such policy positions might make him all but unelectable to a large contingent of the district’s conservative voters and yet still palatable not just to Democrats but independents tired of the Republican Party’s decades-long ownership of the Third District.
And yet even the insinuation that Aden may have once claimed to be a Green Beret, or to hold a degree from a prestigious institution, and be incorrect in his recollections, changes things.
Ultimately it is up to voters to make decisions about the importance of revelations that have the potential to hamper and even deconstruct whole careers. The irony for Aden is despite months of sincere campaigning many Third District voters are hearing his name talked about for the very first time as a result of this unfortunate fiasco. Talk about a difficult first impression.
Many politicians have survived much worse, of course, but Aden needs try being clear and concise about his past. For example, if satisfactory explanations of how anyone could have been led to believe that he was a former Green Beret remain MIA in the weeks to come, then he should step away from the campaign.
Not only do Third District voters of every political stripe deserve complete honesty in this matter, so does Steve Womack. Our Congressman deserves to know exactly who is challenging him for his day job – warts and all. Anything less is being less than entirely honest.
And I know the Third District can do better than that.