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Is Governor Ignoring Veterans?
By Barry R. Clausen © February 2004
For over 12 years Northern California Veterans have worked relentlessly to ensure their final resting place would be in a cemetery near their loved ones. Over twelve thousands Veterans statewide sighed a petition designed to show all elected officials that the cemetery was needed and justified. After years of negotiating and with the finances in place, the groundbreaking ceremony was finally held in June of 2002.
Dignitaries from many parts of the State attended, including local Congressman, Wally Herger, and former California State Senator Maurice Johannessen, who lead the charge to ensure the cemetery would be build. There were two color guards involved in the service and the hundreds of Veterans that attended the ceremony hailed the event as a huge success, including two Medal of Honor recipients.
One of the biggest supporters of a California State Veterans Cemetery, to be built in Shasta County was former Vietnam Veteran, Governor Gray Davis. In a letter date dated June 1, 2002 he stated, “It is said that the heart of a people is measured by how they honor their heroes. My friends, the Northern California Veterans Cemetery will ensure that our fallen heroes are laid to rest with the honor befitting a most proud and grateful people….
“I was honored to sign legislation by Senator Maurice Johannessen three years ago to establish the first State Veterans Cemetery in California’s history. I am equally honored today to celebrate this historic groundbreaking, and I am sorry I cannot be with you in person.
“An honored resting place such as this is a fitting memorial to those who served their country. But, as Abraham Lincoln once said, to truly honor our fallen heroes, we the living must continue their cause….
“We will stand with them in our Nation’s struggle. We will dedicate ourselves to continue their cause. And we will honor their lives, and their sacrifice, with this good resting place.”
When Senator Johannessen termed out as a State Senator he was appointed to the position of Secretary of California Department of Veteran’s Affairs (CDVA). This position lasted until Governor Schwarzenegger took office. Within hours of Schwarzenegger’s appointment as Governor, Johannessen (also a republican) was dismissed as Secretary and Leon Tuttle was appointed as interim Secretary. With the help of members of the Republican Caucus, Tuttle decided to put the Veterans Cemetery on hold because of Maintenance costs.
Currently, Tom Johnson has taken over as Secretary of CDVA and Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa is working with Johnson as well as leading the fight to make the Redding Cemetery a reality. Apparently, the main concern by CDVA was the yearly maintenance costs which interim secretary Tuttle and the Caucus had estimated would be between $750,000 and $900,000 per year.
After extensive research and input from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA), LaMalfa and his staff came up with a different dollar figure. In a February 17, 2004 letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, LaMalfa states, “…Further, the operations and maintenance budget being suggested by the California Department of Veterans Affairs is inflated, reportedly over $750,000 in annual net costs. Estimates from Shasta County officials and people within the USDVA both tend to agree the actual numbers should be about half that figure at full operation. In the first few years, in fact, the operations and maintenance budget would likely be less than that, since there would be few gravesites and minimal lawn to maintain. My office has prepared an estimate of these costs using previous projections supplied by USDVA Office of State Veterans Cemeteries with cost updates as supplied by local public works officials.”
LaMalfa’s letter also states, “Considering the cemetery would be phased in over its 50 year lifespan, it would logically not be at full capacity immediately. Recognizing the value of the contributions made by Shasta County (eg: inmate labor for grounds keeping and infrastructure improvements already made) I believe the actual net operating costs would be approximately $357,500. As illustrated in the accompanying budget estimate, that amount would reflect staffing levels that should be more than adequate for at least the first five years of operation and likely would be sufficient for the entire twenty-year first phase. This budget estimate is still within the $450,000 estimate and $600,000 limit codified by SB 4 [Senate Bill] of 1999 in Military & Veterans Code 1401.”
According to the Governor’s Press Office all Veteran information relevant to Veterans and the Veteran’s Cemetery are to be sent to Jerry Jones, the newly appointed Veterans Communications Director, who works for the CDVA. This begs the question; does Governor Schwarzenegger know what is happening on Veterans issues within his own administration or does he simply not care?
According to Vietnam Veteran, Major John Cleckner, United States Army Special Forces (Green Beret Retiree), “From day one, and I'm taking about the mid nineties Jerry Jones and Leo Burke have done everything in their power to stop the Cemetery from being approved and built in Northern California.
“Burke runs the American Legion in California and has been against the Cemetery being built in Northern California. In fact, he went to Washington D.C. and met with every delegate from California. He told them not to support the effort in Northern California to build a cemetery there. He even had the American Legion Resolution that had already been written on behalf of our effort to build the first State Cemetery here in the North State, rescinded.”
“Leo Burke has the arrogance to do this in our faces and then has the guts to tell me when I challenged him on this that, ‘Northern California doesn't have enough Veterans up here to deserve anything. The point that Mr. Burk is missing is that this is a state cemetery for all Veterans, from the Mexican Border to the Oregon Border.’ These comments were made prior to a California Veterans Board Meeting in Redding.”
“For years Jerry Jones has been against us regardless of what some think of him. He has written many many e-mails and letters to Southern California cronies, legislators and veterans stating; ‘who the hell do they think they are? They don't deserve anything up there, there aren't any Veterans up there.’”
Numerous other Veterans from the Redding area echoed Cleckner’s words and comments about Jones and Burke. Other Senate sources claim that Jones has a history of not speaking the truth when he goes before committees in the capitol. “He is just not trustworthy,” said one Senator. Other political figures stated that Jones had no business speaking on the cemetery issue.
Saturday, after the dust settled, Willie Preston of LaMalfa’s, Redding staff wanted all Veterans to know that the political process regarding the cemetery was still intact. They are working with the Governor and Johnson of CDVA on this issue, not with Jerry Jones.
With all of the information in front of him, the next move in this ongoing issue is up to Governor Schwarzenegger. Lets all trust that he agrees with the words of former Governor Gray Davis and supports the 250,000 Veterans in the North State.
(Authors Note) On February 27, 2004 I personally visited the Governor’s Office to see if they wished to comment on this story. From the Governors office, I was sent to the Governors Press Office who sent me to Jerry Jones via telephone. Jones informed me that the Redding Veterans Cemetery was placed on permanent hold and would not be built as a result of the maintenance costs. (Jones recanted this statement that same day and in fact denied ever making it after he received a call from Congressman Herger’s office about his statement). When I asked Jones about LaMalfa’s letter and his proposed budget to the Governor, Jones stated, “The Secretary is out of town and will return next week, at that time he will review LaMalfa’s letter,” I then returned to the Governor’s Press Office with a new idea – review my story first, and then consider making a comment. I was told, “run your story and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.” The next question – will the Press Office recant their statement also?
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