Politics 2004Week of September 27

Coffee (Hawaiian Style) Anyone?

“I support the efforts of the Swift Boat veterans. They would have the most insight into what John Kerry did while in the service. I can only testify as to what happened after he came back from Vietnam and I would say his public statements encouraged the enemy to hold out longer. Many times, they would tell us POWs how a fellow Navy veteran was saying the war was hopeless and we were guilty of war crimes. What Kerry said and did after the war was a distinct example of what [North Vietnamese Defense Minister] Giap wrote in his memoirs–that we might win the war on the battlefield but they would win the war of public opinion in America.”

Those were the words of Jerry Coffee, retired U.S. Navy captain and involuntary guest of the North Vietnamese for seven years and nine days. Ironically, last Tuesday evening I missed talking about the Swift Boat experiences with Unfit for Command authors John O’Neill and Jerry Corsi at the reception in Washington, D.C., put on by Regnery (publisher of the runaway best-seller) because the 70-year-old Coffee was on the phone from Hawaii, which has a six-hour time difference from the East Coast, complaining about fellow Vietnam Navy veteran Kerry.

But Coffee was calling for other reasons. As befits a man who willingly took on many tough assignments, the National War College graduate is the Republican candidate for the legislature against one of the true powerhouses among Aloha State Democrats: state House Majority Whip Blake Oshiro, a 34-year-old lawyer who, in Coffee’s words, “has no life outside law practice and politics.”

Coffee, a best-selling author and much-in-demand speaker before service clubs and veterans organizations, is inevitably asked about his experiences in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.” Fellow POWs such as John McCain, Rep. Sam Johnson (R.-Tex.), and former Sen. (1980-86) Jeremiah Denton (R.-Ala.) have scored major political success in large part because of their wartime heroism. “But it’s not a silver bullet for election,” Coffee told me, noting that more than a dozen of his fellow POWs have met defeat on the electoral battlefield, “You’ve got to have something to go with it.”

In Coffee’s case, that “something” is being on the same side on taxes, spending and crime as Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years. In his words, “In 40 years with a Democratic governor, a veto was overridden by the legislature exactly once. Since we’ve had a Republican governor for the past two years, a veto has been overridden 14 times. That’s because our governor wants to cut spending and won’t raise taxes, and my opponent is part of the whole bunch that wants to do the opposite.” As an example of the differences between the parties in Hawaii, Coffee noted that the last time there was a Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano (who served from 1994-2002), the state had to “skim off $12 million from the highway fund, which operates at a surplus, to balance the budget.”

Regarding opponent Oshiro, Coffee told me, “He’s very liberal and I’m conservative. He’s so consumed by “human rights” that he won’t grant police added power to deal with the mass ampehetamine dealing that is a crisis here. I will.” Coffee added his distaste for Oshiro’s initiation of legislation to acknowledge domestic partners. “When 72% of Hawaiians vote that marriage is between one man and woman, he’s not representing our values,” said the POW-politician.

Overlooking Pearl Harbor, the district in which Oshiro and Coffee are competing normally votes Democratic. But things are changing; the marriage amendment handily won in the district, and Lingle carried it with 51% of the vote. The governor has gone as far as to promise to go door-to-door for Coffee to underscore the importance of his election. With Democrats dominating the state House 51 to 12, a net gain of three will give Lingle and the GOP enough votes to thwart the overriding of her vetoes.

(Friends of Jerry Coffee, 99-905-B Aiea Heights Dr., Aiea, Hawaii 96701; 808-487-1776;

Don Brotzman, R.I.P.

In Colorado, conservative Republicans Bill Armstrong, Hank Brown, and Bob Schaffer all failed to win the office of lieutenant governor. But all went on to serve with distinction and advance the cause in the U.S. House of Representatives. Armstrong and Brown, in fact, also went on to be among the most respected U.S. senators from the Centennial State.

An earlier Colorado conservative who was frustrated in two bids for statewide office but cut a wide swath in Congress died of cancer on September 15 at 82. Donald G. Brotzman, who represented Colorado in the House for a decade, will be remembered by admirers not only as a conservative but as a political “comeback kid” who never gave up.

A onetime high school football star who saw action in the Pacific theater during World War II, the man friends called “Brotz” seemed destined for a political career no sooner than he was discharged and earned his law degree at the University of Colorado School of Business and Law. He was elected to the state house in 1950 at age 28 and moved to the senate two years later. He was selected by the state Capital press as “Outstanding Freshman Member” in both Houses. At 32, Brotzman won the Republican nomination for governor but was beaten by one of the most popular state Democrats, 70-year-old Sen. (1936-54) Edwin C. Johnson. Four years later, he lost the GOP primary for governor to Palmer Burch and was named U.S. attorney for Colorado. In 1962, Brotzman went to Congress, and quickly became known, as HUMAN EVENTS said (Oct. 29, 1966) as “a tough anti-Communist who has favored a tough stand against Communist aggression [and] received a 100% rating from the NAB [National Associated Businessmen, Inc].”

Swept out in the Johnson landslide of ’64, Brotzman won the return match against Democrat Roy McVicker in 1966 after a hard-hitting campaign in which he slammed McVicker for supporting federal programs that led to higher consumer prices. Upon returning to Congress, Brotzman won a coveted spot on the Ways and Means Committee. He won re-election with relative ease until 1974 when, in the so-called “Watergate Year,” he lost to Democrat and Sen.-to-be Tim Wirth.

Brotzman went on to serve as assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, overseeing the Army’s transition to an all-volunteer force, and was later president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association. “Brotz was a man of sterling character,” recalled Bill Armstrong, “and a great mentor to young conservatives such as me.”

D???? ©tente in Florida

Although he was still publicly complaining about some of the rhetoric used during the primary campaign to characterize his votes for “hate-crimes” legislation, former Rep. (1980-2000) and defeated U.S. Senate hopeful Bill McCollum last week gave his endorsement to the Republican Senate nominee, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez. After indicating for days he might not endorse Martinez because some of the winner’s supporters had called McCollum “anti-family” for his support of hate crimes laws and embryonic stem cell research, the former congressman finally met privately with the nominee (who won the primary by 45% to 31% over McCollum) and endorsed him, then subsequently campaigned with him.

As a further sign of party unity among Sunshine State Republicans, Mike Miller, who had been McCollum’s finance director, and Jay Marsh, McCollum’s former director of state projects, have just joined the Martinez campaign. In addition, McCollum will co-host a fund-raising event for Martinez October 12 featuring First Mother Barbara Bush. With veteran Democratic Sen. Bob Graham retiring, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Betty Castor is the Democratic standard-bearer against Martinez.