Dark Horse Challenging
Congressman Murtha Turns Out
to be a Thoroughbred
by Nathaniel R. Helms | July
28, 2008 | Join the discussion
Two years after Congressman John Murtha
ambushed brother Marines for reportedly slaughtering cowering
Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq he is embroiled in another
battle--this one for his political life.
His unlikely opponent in Pennsylvania's 12th
District is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel named William T.
Russell, 47, a Desert Storm and Iraq war veteran who is barred by the
Hatch Act from stumping until August 1 when his active duty stint
ends. A Cinderella candidate running against the tide of Democratic
hopefuls elsewhere, Russell is garnering national attention for his
improbable early success.
for Russell until he is free to speak for himself is Peg Luksik, a
three-time candidate for Pennsylvania governor. She still has enough
energy after raising six kids to run a hard-charging campaign.
Currently, Russell is out-pacing the Earl of Earmarks five-to-one in
campaign contributions. Last quarter, Luksik’s efforts helped him
generate more than $679,000 in donations, considerably more than the
$119,000 and change Murtha raised.
out earn us in the end,” Luksik concedes. “But Bill started with
nothing. He didn’t do this to be a career politician. Now the campaign
is generating donations all by itself. We have had more than 17,000
donors; three-quarters gave $50 or less.”
“Americans don’t like it when Murtha is shooting our Marines in the
back while they are getting shot at in the front,” Luksik said.
Republican in a heavily Democratic state, Russell gets his support
from grassroots independents, angry vets, and minority Republicans who
want the Keystone State’s version of Mr. Pork to quietly go away. The
mix of traditional party politicians and neophyte campaigners has
employed a variety of means to blast Murtha with powerful effect.
only is Murtha facing very public condemnation for his vitriolic
attacks on Marines, his stance on the Iraq war, and his questionable
ethics, the aging Congressman is reportedly squirming under a whisper
campaign spread by relentless bloggers and e-mail campaigners that
question his mental competency, his allegedly corrupt political
practices, and his propensity for dining at the trough of Pentagon
power brokers buying his good will.
getting on the ballot was a tough battle for Russell, a political
outsider who came to roost in Pennsylvania after serving his country
around the world. During his military career he lived in 11 states and
seven countries. Despite such handicaps he still managed to obtain
enough voter signatures get on the primary ballot as the only
Republican candidate in the district.
just a nice guy,” Luksik explained. “When people hear him, when they
meet him, they come away impressed.”
well financed and artfully crafted campaign apparatus was less easily
swayed. It challenged the signatures on Russell’s petition in court.
Just enough signatures were removed to assure that Russell would not
be on the primary ballot-–which was the plan.
Undeterred, Russell asked voters to write in his name on the primary
ballot to be the Republican candidate in the upcoming general
election. He received more than 4,000 write-in votes in the GOP
Primary and another 1,000 in the Democrat Primary, enough to once
again make him a candidate, Luksik said.
an impressive performance in a district with approximately 345,000
registered voters. Instead of the "dark horse" Murtha’s machine
expected, they encountered a thoroughbred who apparently knows how to
Haditha Marine father joins "Murtha Must Go"
Sharratt is the father of former LCpl Justin Sharratt, a Marine Murtha
accused of “cold blooded murder” at Haditha. Sharratt lives in
Canonsburg, a small town in Murtha’s district. Last year his son was
publicly lauded for his remarkable courage by Gen James N. Mattis,
the Marine general who originally brought murder charges against him.
Sharratt belongs to “Murtha
Must Go”, a group that claims the 18-term Congressman sold out his
country, his brother Marines, and the Constitution when he accused
Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines of
murdering innocent old men, women and children in an orgy of
retaliatory murder. It is harsh commentary in a state that prides
itself on a history of unflinching military service that goes back
before the Revolutionary War.
group runs a slick website where viewers can follow Murtha’s sordid
political career from the infamous ABSCAM video that reportedly shows
Murtha taking bribe money from FBI undercover agents to his
unprecedented condemnation of American Marines to further his
Murtha's devotion to his constituents was captured 26 years ago when
he told an FBI agent posing as a lawyer for a rich Arab sheik that he
was reluctant to take the $50,000 in cash the agent placed on a desk,
supposedly in exchange for help getting the sheik a U.S. visa.
we've done some business, I might change my mind," Mr. Murtha says on
the 53-minute black-and-white video the FBI made during the ABSCAM
sting in 1980.
he cooperated with government prosecutors, testifying against two
congressmen who were eventually convicted of accepting bribes. He even
explained why he needed to be so careful.
expect to be in the f*cking leadership of the House," he told the
undercover FBI agents that stung him. "I'm delighted to do business
with you. Sh*t, I do business like this all the time to get companies
into the area.”
naive. I failed to understand the American political system.
Specifically, our politicians,” Sharratt wrote by way of explanation
of his latent opposition to Murtha. “I will never be this ill-informed
again. We allowed our politicians to undermine our efforts in Vietnam.
I will not allow them to send us down the wrong path in confronting
radical Islam. I cannot and will not let this happen. My son and his
comrades deserve this type of support…”
citizen's campaign against a pork-fed machine
depends largely on Murtha’s harsh attacks on the Marines at Haditha to
criticize the kingpin of local politics in pork-fed Johnstown, PA. It
is Murtha’s Democratic base and home to the largest block of voter in
According to local statistics 63% of the registered voters in Murtha’s
nine-county district are Democrats. Whether appeals to their sense of
fair play is enough to overcome Murtha’s popularity among them is the
biggest obstacle Russell faces, Luksik acknowledged.
does have some redeemable political currency by virtue of his military
career. In addition to serving in the Balkans and both Iraq wars, he
was in the Pentagon with his pregnant Polish-born wife when a hijacked
airliner slammed into the building on September 11, 2001. Both they,
and their unborn son, escaped unhurt.
on the other hand, is a Vietnam veteran, a retired reserve colonel,
and the Democrat with his hands on the Pentagon’s purse strings as
chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Last
year his committee handed out $459 billion to Pentagon suppliers.
Russell simply has no means to fight that kind of economic clout, the
Murtha has served in the House since 1974 and is known for bringing
defense industry money and jobs to his rural Pennsylvania district.
Once a center of coal and steel production, the economy in Murtha’s
district has withered under the relentless march of industry to
foreign shores, economic reports show.
only thing we export now is our children,” Luksik said.
Murtha’s harshest detractors say his frequent gaffes--like arguing for
stationing troops in Okinawa and erroneously claiming he was briefed
on Haditha by the Commandant of the Marine Corps--suggest old age is
taking its toll on his judgment.
Murtha’s call for troop withdrawal from Iraq “is just flat-out wrong,”
Russell said in a newspaper interview last year.
of Murtha’s pork barrel politics claim that Johnstown’s good fortune
comes at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else. They say defense
contractors who kow-tow to Murtha find themselves with lucrative,
no-bid contracts. Those that don’t get short shift.
months ago, Murtha announced plans for the consolidation of Northrop
Grumman Corporation operations in Johnstown and the opening of a new
office in the city “to expand the company's support of the U.S.
Department of Defense, other federal agencies and the commercial
expansion of Northrop Grumman, bringing their worldwide defense
expertise to the Johnstown Technology Park along with the potential
for more than 50 new jobs in our local economy, adds further proof
that Western Pennsylvania has arrived as a hub for international
business and the nation's security and defense work," Murtha said.
Northrop Grumman builds planes, ships and related high ticket defense
items around the country.
popular example of Murtha’s ability to pour taxpayer dollars into his
district is Concurrent Technologies Corp, a non-profit charity based
in Johnstown. In pursuit of philanthropy it has dabbled in
mine-detecting dogs, managed religion-based initiatives, uses for
hydrogen as a fuel in coal rich Pennsylvania, missile-defense and the
development of special armor for combat vehicles in Iraq.
helped arrange funding to launch the organization in 1988 and has
since directed to it millions in congressional appropriations called
earmarks. Today Concurrent has nearly $250 million in annual revenue
and 1,500 employees, it says.
Concurrent pays no income tax on most of its revenue income, according
to government records.
Murtha prime cut is the National Drug Intelligence Center. According
to the agency the NDIC was created by Congress in 1991 to develop
better strategic intelligence for the nation’s remarkably unsuccessful
counter-drug policymakers in the U.S. Department of Justice.
employees--including 120 researchers--needed $509 million last year to
continue investigating the country’s drug problems despite annual
White House efforts to shut it down as “wasteful and unnecessary,”
government documents show.
beneficiary, MTS Technologies, is run by a man the Wall Street
Journal says got his start some 40 years ago shining shoes at
Murtha’s Johnstown Minute Car Wash.
really is a citizen’s campaign,” Luksik says. “Several times hits on
our website have exceeded our server’s capacity. But that is a good
thing. We get thousands of emails. They say,’ I haven’t given to a
political candidate before.’ These are regular people, not political
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
28 July 2008
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).