Posted: March 21, 2006
VETS' LETTER ON JAN TING GETS WINGED
By Celia Cohen
A letter critical of Jan C. Ting, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, from a local military association was declared off-limits by its parent organization, but the sentiments in the letter have not gone away.
The letter from the Delaware chapter of the Air Force Association, a veterans' group, was sent late last month to Republican officials to warn them away from Ting because he had protested against the Vietnam War as a student more than 30 years ago, while the Democratic candidate will be U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, who was a naval flight officer at that time.
The letter arrived just as the Republican State Committee, the party's governing body, was about to hold a senatorial straw poll on March 3. It did not appear to hurt Ting's standing within the leadership that encouraged him to run.
In a lopsided vote, Ting won 64-16 against Michael D. Protack, a pie-in-the-sky candidate with a habit of running for Republican nominations for high office, even though Protack was in the Marine Corps.
Since then, the letter has taken on a life of its own.
Someone -- a Delaware Republican but otherwise unidentified -- forwarded the letter to the Air Force Association's national office in Arlington, Va., where it was found to be a violation of the 60-year-old organization's constitution.
It reads: "The Association shall be civilian and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles nor for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking office or preferment, nor for any other personal or commercial gain."
James M. Simpson, the association's director of membership operations, said it was his responsibility to take action, and he did. "It was a mistake, and it's been corrected," Simpson said. "We were not put together to be a political organization."
As crisp as he sounded, the response back home seemed less so.
"That is Jim's opinion. It's not in total agreement within the organization. Much of the AFA within the state felt quite strongly about it and felt it was appropriate," said Richard B. Bundy, the state chapter president. "It was not a pro-Protack letter. It was not an anti-Ting letter."
Bundy, a retired general who had two tours as a commander at Dover Air Force Base, signed the letter along with Arthur G. Ericson, a retired colonel who is a past president of the Galaxy Chapter, the state association's Dover-based division.
Meanwhile, Ting has been forced into damage control within his own party, as if he was not enough of an underdog already against Carper, who holds the record for statewide victories as a three-term state treasurer, five-term congressman, two-term governor and one-term senator.
Before the straw poll, Ting issued a statement acknowledging he was "on the wrong side of the Vietnam War debate" and noting he changed his mind after meeting Vietnamese refugees and learning about his own Chinese relatives who endured Mao's Cultural Revolution.
A Temple University law professor, Ting also talked up his own national-security credentials as a former immigration officer involved in border security and an expert witness for the 9/11 Commission.
Ting met with Bundy and Ericson for breakfast Sunday at the Maple Dale Country Club in Dover to explain himself further. The veterans grilled him, saying they had heard he had been arrested, burned his draft card and burned an American flag, all of which Ting said was false.
"The veterans' e-mail network was going bananas," Bundy said.
Bundy, a Republican who ran for the Kent County Levy Court in 2002, said he came out of the session with respect for Ting but will not back any candidate publicly for the Senate race.
He said Ting can persuade some veterans to forgive him for his youthful protesting, but not others. "We have some members who will put him in the Jane Fonda group and never vote for him," Bundy said.
For the veterans favoring forgiveness, Ting is disinclined to let them know exactly what they are forgiving him for, and there the matter hangs.
"I was part of that generation," Ting said. "I don't see anything positive in going into details."