Are Expensive Elections Keeping Veterans From Running For Office?

Apr 15, 2016

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute shows there aren't many military veterans in California's state legislature, even though more vets live in the state than anywhere else.

About 2 million vets call California home, making up slightly less than 5 percent of the population.

With just 6 percent of state lawmakers having ever been in uniform, California ranks in the bottom five states in the union for having legislators who've served. At 23 percent, New Hampshire leads the country with the highest proportion of vets serving in its legislature.

After the report's release, some are asking why there aren't more vets in Sacramento serving in elected office.

The answer might be money.

For one thing, vets who've spent their early professional years moving around and often making less money than their civilian counterparts might not have the political networks and financial resources to make a run, says Seth Lynn, a Marine reserve officer and director of the nonpartisan group Veterans Campaign, which helps vets run for office.

Veterans also tend to have trouble fundraising, especially on their first campaigns, he says. 

"It’s not really in our DNA, you know? It goes against some of our core values, asking people for money, asking people for help," says Lynn.

Vets running for office in California face an extra hurdle, he says, because it costs more money to mount a campaign here than just about anywhere else.

Lynn says his group helped a vet named Mark Cardenas win a seat in Arizona’s legislature, and Cardenas only needed to raise between $10,000 and $20,000. But vets running for California’s house, such as Susan Eggman, routinely have to raise anywhere between $250,000 to $500,000.

Former Army artilleryman Josh Newman is trying to bump up California’s number a bit as well. He’s running for the California State Senate's 29th District seat in Fullerton.

Newman thinks vets have something special to offer.

"Veterans typically bring an orientation that tends to be less partisan, more objective, more results driven I think than your average political actor," Newman tells KPCC.

He plans to raise and spend about $150,000 before the June 7 Democratic primary, which he hopes will help him garner at least a second place finish and a ticket to the general election in November. If Newman gets that far, he estimates he'll need to raise at least $600,000 to win.