Jay Ashcroft draws bipartisan attacks over comments about veterans’ benefits

Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent
Missouri Secretary of State John "Jay" Ashcroft speaks to reporters Dec. 20 about the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to bar former president Donald Trump from the Colorado ballot.
Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent Missouri Secretary of State John "Jay" Ashcroft speaks to reporters Dec. 20 about the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to bar former president Donald Trump from the Colorado ballot.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is facing criticism from Republican and Democratic rivals over comments he made at a candidate forum this weekend calling into question the fairness of special benefits for veterans.

During a panel for gubernatorial candidates at the annual Missouri Republican Party Lincoln Days in Kansas City over the weekend, Ashcroft was asked how the state can better support veterans and active duty military personnel.

Ashcroft said "we need to do what we promised them," before acknowledging he was about to say something that "probably isn't what you want for the answer to your question."

"I don't think we ought to treat people based on classifications," he said. "I think we ought to treat everybody equally. And I don't think we ought to say that if you live here, we're gonna charge you this, but if you live here, we charge you this. I don't think we ought to say if you're in the military, we'll give you this discount, but everybody else has to pay twice as much. I don't think that's good government."

When someone is a member of the military and moves into the state, Ashcroft said, "it's harder sometimes to get licensed and make sure you have licensing reciprocity. What I always said was, why don't we just make that rule for everybody? Why don't we just say that government is the problem, and let's get government out of the way, let people make their own decisions and not keep picking and choosing winners and losers."

He concluded: "I appreciate veterans. I have veterans in my family. I like what they've done. But what we ought to do is say, if it's good for veterans, it's good to do it for everyone."

State Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican who served in the Air Force, responded to Ashcroft's comments during the forum by saying he was "stunned to hear one of the candidates here say he's not interested in looking into veterans' issues or helping them out."

He continued his criticism Wednesday, as footage of Ashcroft's comments began to spread on social media.

"I lost friends. I saw the struggle upon returning to the states," he said. "I disdain the ruling elite who send our men and women to die in their wars, all while doing nothing to ensure their sacrifice is honored when they return home."

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City who also participated in the candidate forum, said Wednesday evening that for Ashcroft to "treat our veterans as anything less than heroes is disrespectful to all veterans and their families. Communities across our state value our nation's heroes and their service and sacrifice to our country, and they would want their governor to do the same."

Democrats also piled on.

Emma O'Brien, press secretary for the Democratic Governors Association, called Ashcroft an "insider politician who only looks out for himself, but wants to rip away benefits from members of the military and veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom."

In a statement to the Independent on Wednesday evening, Ashcroft did not address the criticism but said it is "shameful that we have failed to fulfill our commitment to our veterans."

"No Americans make a greater sacrifice for our freedoms and security than the men and women who wear the uniform of our armed forces," the statement read. "The sacrifices that they and their families make are unimaginable for those of us who have not served. I honor that service and as governor will make our commitment to them a priority, without qualification."

Ashcroft -- a two-term secretary of state whose father served as auditor, attorney general, governor and U.S. Senator of Missouri -- has consistently led both Kehoe and Eigel in polls of the GOP gubernatorial primary.

The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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