Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

Sager's claims, facts seem to conflict

Jason Sager's campaign website says his four-year stint in the Navy began after he graduated from Hernando High School in the spring of 1992.

Do a quick Internet search and you'll find that the first Gulf War ended with a cease-fire on Feb. 28, 1991.

And yet, at a candidates forum held last week by the Business and Professional Women of Hernando County, Sager said, in an audio recording provided to the Times, that "immediately following Hernando High School, I went into the United States Navy during the first Gulf War."

Sager has done this before. At a July event sponsored by the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and recorded by the county's government broadcasting service, he talked about the "four years I spent in the United States Navy in a time of war."

These sections I highlighted — are they flat-out lies? Maybe not. But there was also the long list of falsehoods in ads Sager put out during the Republican primary. And then, after being caught red-handed removing an opponent's campaign signs last week, he claimed he had permission from the landowner — even though, according to the landowner, he didn't.

Put it all together and it's pretty clear Sager can bend the truth like Superman bends steel bars.

When I called Sager, the Republican candidate for the District 3 County Commission seat, he wouldn't say where he served. But he did say he was inspired by the first Gulf War, and that he signed his enlistment papers in July 1991, a year before he reported for duty — and that during his senior year he was active in his school's ROTC program.

It's hard to see what drilling with a fake rifle in Brooksville, months after the cease-fire has been signed, has to do with wartime service.

And note that, at the forum, he didn't say the war inspired him. He said he joined during it.

He also told me he received a National Defense Service Medal for Gulf War service, and, yes, according to the Navy, this medal was awarded to sailors on active duty until November 1995.

Why so late? How long did it really take for the first Gulf War to wind down?

Matthew Jacobs, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in U.S.-Middle East relations, said the agreement formalizing the cease-fire wasn't signed until April.

And for years afterward, there were ongoing tensions with Iraq, especially over a no-fly zone that the Navy helped enforce.

"In a technical sense, there is a continuation of hostilities," Jacobs said. "But clearly the state of war is over. My sense is that this candidate is playing loose with his definition of combat to tap into the sentiment for recognizing veterans."

In other words, he's trying to get some of the glory we grant people who took a risk that he didn't take, which probably makes this the most offensive of Sager's fabrications.

Is it pants-on-fire false? I don't know, and as much as I love PolitiFact, it's not the only way to judge politicians. We can also judge them as we do ordinary people.

So I ask you: What if you met a man in a bar who told you he'd served during the first Gulf War, and you later learned he actually joined long after that brief, dramatic, televised campaign?

Most likely, you'd never trust the guy again.

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