By The Herald Editorial Board
The answer is no; state Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, should not be serving on a legislative committee that hears issues related to the state’s military veterans.
Typically, Shavers’ eight years of service in the U.S. Navy and his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., would make him an obvious fit for the House panel, which provides a first review of legislation and issues regarding innovation, community and economic development, as well as veterans concerns.
If only Shavers had stopped there regarding his military record, before winning election in November to the 10th District House post by just 216 votes over former Rep. Greg Gilday, R-Camano Island. Yet Shavers felt the need to embellish beyond those already impressive credentials to sell himself to voters, his supporters and the media — including this editorial board — as having served as an officer on a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.
To be clear, Shavers did not serve in that capacity. He attended the Navy’s Nuclear Power School but later took an assignment in public affairs.
The clarification regarding his record came days before the Nov. 8 election — after voting by mail had already begun and many district voters had submitted ballots — when Shavers’ father was quoted in a letter shared by the Gilday campaign accusing his son of having embellished his service record: “Clyde was never a submarine officer, not even for a day,” his father wrote.
As reported Wednesday by The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield, the decision by majority Democrats in the House to seat Shavers on the panel has drawn criticism — although not outright demands for his removal — from Republicans in the Legislature.
Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, called the decision “very serious” and noted that his party, when objections had been raised in the past regarding GOP committee appointments, had addressed those concerns.
“We don’t go putting them on the very committees (whose stakeholders) they offended,” Wilcox told The Herald.
State Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, also a Naval Academy graduate and veteran, questioned Shavers ability to represent veterans.
“I’m getting emails from veterans saying, ‘I don’t want him to represent me,’” Wagoner said.
Shavers, following coverage of the controversy and before the election, apologized in a statement on his campaign website, “to any supporter who felt misled,” but insisted — as he did in Wednesday’s Herald report — that “he never, ever said I served on a nuclear submarine.”
Oh? Let’s go to the tape, as the saying goes.
This was Shavers’ statement to The Herald Editorial Board during a candidate interview with Shavers and Gilday on Aug. 23, as Shavers’ outlined his background:
“I was a nuclear submarine officer. Did that for a couple of years, and I was lucky to transition to public affairs,” Shavers said before mentioning tours in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“My last duty station was in Bangor, at the Kitsap site, with the submarines over there,” he said.
When told he was the second former submariner to be interviewed by the board for an endorsement that year, his response was “Cool; we’re out there,” adding, “They call us bubble heads.”
The editorial board took the above statements and the conversation — audio of which was recorded with knowledge and permission of both candidates at the start of the interview — to indicate substantial service as a nuclear submarine officer. Shavers said nothing to correct or clarify any potential misunderstanding of those statements.
Shavers is one of four veterans on the House committee and told The Herald he intends to use his experience and background to help veterans. He has introduced two pieces of legislation: One to recognize school districts that show a commitment to students and families of members of the military; another to provide veterans free admission to state parks.
Both bills sound like good ideas, deserving of consideration, but neither requires the prime sponsor’s membership on the committee to advance.
What should concern members of the committee and Shavers’ party is that those he seeks to represent on the panel, including military members, veterans and their families — because they hold their own to a higher standard — may now lack confidence in his statements and commitments, just as his misrepresentation to the editorial board prompted it to rescind its endorsement of him in the race. Any lack of confidence among his military peers is likely to scuttle the impact Shavers’ service on the committee can have.
Some will be tempted to compare Shavers to U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who is facing calls to resign or be removed from Congress because of rank fabrications he made during his campaign regarding his education, career and family background and history. But the sheer scale and breadth of lies that Santos invented far exceeds Shavers’ manipulation of his record.
Yet, the comparison doesn’t absolve Shavers of his responsibility for his resume fabrication.
Shavers, if he seeks the best interests of active duty members and veterans, should step down from the committee and use this year and next to rebuild their trust — and that of the voters — in him.