By Walter C. Jones
MARIETTA, GA. | Fellow Democrats David Poythress and Max Cleland gave Jason Carter a little help Thursday in criticizing Nathan Deal.
Surrounded by historic military planes, the men attacked Deal over his appointments to the Georgia National Guard for basing them on cronyism instead of credentials. Poythress, a former head of the state guard, said the appointments hurt the state’s relations with Pentagon officials, which could result in shortchanging the state on missions and equipment and possibly harm Georgia’s chances in avoiding future closures of military bases.
“You do not politicize the military,” said Poythress, a two-time unsuccessful candidate for governor himself. “This governor, right out of the box, appointed political cronies to the top leadership position in the National Guard. They are not qualified professionally or by experience or otherwise, and that is reflected in the quality of their leadership.
“I will tell you the leadership — not the men and women of the guard — the leadership is a laughingstock nationally in the professional military community.”
One of Deal’s first appointments was Jim Butterworth to become the guard’s adjutant general. Butterworth was an airline pilot and state senator from Deal’s home of Gainesville, serving as Deal’s Senate floor leader.
He had served in the Air Force and Georgia Air National Guard, but had only attained the rank of captain. As a result, the U.S. Department of Defense doesn’t recognize the jump in rank granted by the Georgia guard to become major general.
“When they go to the Pentagon, and they go to meetings with other general officers, they have to wear a coat and tie,” Poythress said. “They don’t belong there, and everybody knows they don’t belong there.”
Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm while serving in Vietnam, agreed.
“We need to put our best foot forward, not only for potential base closures that may come down the pike from Washington, but we need to put our best forward because of our people,” said Cleland, who Carter’s grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, appointed secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Jason Carter acknowledged that he had himself served in the Peace Corps rather than the military like Poythress, Cleland and Deal. But he said that isn’t a major hurdle to doing well as the guard’s commander-in-chief.
“You don’t have to be a veteran to appoint qualified people to positions,” he said.
Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson noted afterward that the Georgia guard had been recognized as the nation’s best during the Deal administration and added a dig about Carter’s hometown.
“We appreciate Jason Carter giving us the chance to contrast the governor’s military credentials with the senator’s complete and utter lack of them,” Robinson said. “Perhaps we should forgive Carter’s ill-advised criticism of the best National Guard in the nation; after all, we know inexperienced state senators from Chicago don’t understand how the military works.”