Monday, June 27, 2005 | With the aid of a number of concerned citizens, Ramona and I led a series of demonstrations during 2002-2004 advocating better housing for military families living on Camp Pendleton. Those families were trapped in housing infested with rodents and black mold that threatened the health of themselves and their young children. We put substantial pressure on the powers-that-be to take meaningful action to resolve the problem, to close the health-endangering housing units and construct new ones to replace them. This was a particularly important Congressional campaign issue for me because, as an Air Force brat, I had grown up in military enlisted housing.

Our housing demonstrations at Camp Pendleton’s main gate were influential in bringing about better living conditions for these military families. Of course, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) afterward claimed credit for the positive changes that were enacted as a result of this pressure. No matter; we were just grateful that the changes did happen.

Now, compare the substandard housing provided to our troops at Camp Pendleton, to the conspicuously opulent mansion that Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham enjoys in Rancho Santa Fe, courtesy of the taxpayers.

One of the biggest flag-waving, pseudo-pro-military people around, Cunningham has an ethical and Constitutional duty to all of us and especially to our military personnel and their families. Yet he apparently received a $700,000 “windfall” in the recent sale of his house in Del Mar at a suspiciously inflated price to a defense contractor, with whom he has a very cozy relationship.

Cunningham then paid $2.5 million in cold, hard cash for the new luxury mansion that he believes that he deserves at our expense. Sporting seven-and-a-half bathrooms and a three-acre lot, Cunningham’s mansion was bought for him by you and by us. And I bet none of the rooms have any life-threatening black mold or mildew. After all, Rep. Cunningham shouldn’t have to live like us little people, now should he?

By his own admission, Cunningham used his Congressional authority to steer additional tens of millions of our tax dollars to this same contractor. Not surprisingly, Cunningham has also received tens of thousands of dollars in direct campaign contributions from this same contractor. He even lives on this contractor’s boat in Washington D.C., which not coincidentally bears the name of “Duke-Stir.”

So, Cunningham supports a war in Iraq that is completely based upon lies (as proven by the recently-released Downing Street Memos), and then he personally profits from a defense contractor’s largesse at the expense of our troops’ lives and the taxpayers’ Treasury.

This reminds me of that famous question that was posed by Army counsel Joseph Welch to the fanatical Sen. McCarthy in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

On June 17, Ramona and I spent about two mid-day hours participating in a “Mansiongate” protest in front of Cunningham’s new, luxurious digs. Normally, we would find it inappropriate to do this sort of thing in front of someone’s residence, even that of a politician. But in this case, the residence itself is the center of the story. So not only was the location for the demonstration appropriate, it was essential.

We joined about 25 others, some of whom had participated in our previous military housing demonstrations on behalf of our troops and their families. Some of our chants included: “Buy your mansion, buy your yacht, while our troops die in Iraq!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the Duke has got to go!”

These chants resonated throughout the quiet air of the upscale neighborhood in Rancho Santa Fe and were repeated on possibly millions of TV sets, radios and the next-day newspapers.

It is easy to wave cheap plastic flags (which are mostly manufactured in mainland China) and sport “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers. However really supporting the troops requires, among other things, body armor for combat troops, a financial commitment for fair pay, decent housing, funding for an adequate VA hospital system and much more. But all of these are on the Bush administration’s budgetary chopping block.

In the fiscal calculations of the likes of Cunningham, expensive things that are intended to aid and protect the troops and veterans can get in the way of wheeling-and-dealing, those back-room shenanigans in which our tax money is given away to shady firms who seem to be best at just making our hard-earned tax money disappear.

Of course we strongly suspect that at least $700,000 of our disappeared tax money has recently re-emerged in the form of Cunningham’s seven-and-a-half bathroom-mansion that we were demonstrating in front of on June 17.

After all, the taxpayers should see where their tax dollars are actually going to.

Seven and a half bathrooms. That’s a lot of money flushing down the drain.

Mike and Ramona Byron are writing a regular column about people, issues and events in North County. Voice welcomes all perspectives from different parts of the region.

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