Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 14, 2013

George Weeks: Benishek, Levin fight military sexual assaults


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — On the political spectrum, Democrat Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving U.S. senator, who is retiring, and 1st District U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who is gearing for third term, are far, far apart.

Levin, in the 2010 National Journal conservative ratings on economic, social and foreign issues, got a big ZERO. The 2012 Almanac of American Politics said that in getting elected, Benishek “wooed voters with tea party themes of less spending and lower taxes, and vowed he would not seek appropriations earmarks for the district.”

But liberal Levin and conservative Benishek deserve applause for being champions on an issue that deserves more attention than it has received in Michigan and across the land—escalating sexual assaults in the U. S. military. They have differing approaches but they both commendably are highlighting the issue.

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Levin in June held hearings on the issue that involved all of the nation’s top military brass, including Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, and top chiefs of each service.

Last week, Benishek, on a swing in northern Michigan that included stops at the Empire headquarters of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and at a small business in Kalkaska, also scheduled a meeting on the sexual assault issue Monday in Petoskey.

Benishek earlier introduced bipartisan legislation to address the sexual assault issue. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, introduced the same legislation in the Senate. She said that unlike the Levin approach, the Gillibrand-Benishek legislation removes decision-making on assaults “from the chain of command and giving that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience were it belongs. That’s how we achieve accountability, justice and fairness.”

Benishek, a general surgeon who practiced in a U.P. veteran’s facility and now is Michigan’s only member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said:

“Right now, too many sexual assaults in our military go unreported. Many soldiers are uncomfortable reporting the details of these traumatic events. My daughter is a military veteran. So I know exactly the kind of hard-working women we have in our armed forces. This situation is a travesty and we need to fix it now.”

According to Benishek, the Department of Defense “reports that 47 percent of service members say they are afraid to report sexual assault or sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation, and more than 50 percent fear their confidentially will not be maintained. In 2012, the DOD estimates that 87% of sexual assaults went unreported.”

Dr. Dan—as he’s dubbed by his staff—said: “We need to reform how the military handles sexual cases and make sure victims aren’t afraid to report a crime. It’s really a bipartisan push to get something done. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her bold leadership on this effort. As a doctor, I’m used to working with others to find solutions. There are not Democrats or Republicans in the operating room—only team work. “

On Friday in Empire, Benishek met with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Dusty Schutz and others to report on plans by the House Committee on Natural Resources to hold a hearing this summer on legislation to enhance protection and access for more than 32,000 acres of land along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Benishek said that the provisions for “wilderness” areas “ensures that natural features of the area will be preserved, while protecting county roads, historical structures, and access to recreation and enjoyment of the lake. The right to hunt and fish in designated wilderness areas is specifically protected in this legislation.”

Among cosponsors of Benishek’s legislation are two other GOP northern congressmen—2nd District Rep. Bill Huizenga, Zeeland, and 4th District Rep. Dave Camp, Midland.

Environmental honorees

Two champions of Michigan waters were honored last week by the Michigan Environmental Council.

Longtime activist Dave Dempsey, former aide to ex-Gov. James J. Blanchard and author and co-author of seven books, received the Helen & William Milliken Distinguished Service award for being “among the most consistent, forceful and respected voices for strong public policies that protect Michigan’s environment.”

Bob Andrus, a retired Grayling schoolteacher who devotes thousands of volunteer hours to organizing habitat improvement for trout streams, received the Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership. MEC President Chris Kolb called him “the epitome of the type of Michigan volunteer that selflessly devotes his time to make the state a better place.”

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau manager and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.