Veterans featured in documentary on running for congress

A crowd of about 100 people filled the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday for an advanced screening of “Taking the Hill,” a documentary which follows four U.S. Army war veterans in their quest to become members of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2006 midterm elections.

The screening was sponsored by Discovery Times and the School of Media and Public Affairs, moderated by Mike Allen of TIME Magazine and attended by all four veterans featured in the film. Supporters of the candidates, their personal friends and GW students made up most of the screening’s audience.

This group of veterans is otherwise known as the Band of Brothers 2006 – a group of Congressional candidates with no prior campaign experience looking to further serve their country by running for office. Additionally, the candidates said they ran for office as a means to enact change in the United States’ policies toward the war in Iraq.

Filmmakers and brothers Brent and Craig Renaud followed the Band of Brothers from the group’s formation last February to Election Day in November.

“We wanted to stay away from (creating) a political film – it was important for this to not be about a Democrat or Republican story. It was a coming home story,” Brent Renaud said.

Craig Renaud added that, “When choosing the candidates, we wanted a cross section – different ages, ranges of service, people that would win and not win, people that had a lot of money and people that did not.”

Specifically the film follows former Sgt. Rick Bolanos, who served in the Vietnam War and ran for a seat in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District; Capt. Tammy Duckworth, a double-leg amputee who served in the Iraq War and ran for a seat in Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District; Cmdr. Eric Massa, who served as an officer in the Navy for 24 years and ran in New York’s 29th Congressional District; and Capt. Patrick Murphy, who served the Army for 11 years and ran for a seat in Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District.

This year’s midterm elections saw more than 50 U.S. military veterans running for seats in the House. All but a few ran as Democrats, though many who served in the war in Iraq identified themselves as Republicans prior to this service.

All four veterans featured in the film said the campaign trail was more difficult than they expected and that the challenge of fundraising was the most trying component of the campaign process.

Craig Renaud said it’s difficult for many veterans to obtain the money needed for a grassroots campaign if they have spent a majority of their time in the military.

“Since most members of the military have been associated with the military for so long, and their friends are primarily from the military, they don’t know a lot of people with significant funds who are able to contribute to their campaign,” Craig Renaud said.

“However much money you raise, you must raise more,” Duckworth said. “Though I was humbled by how many people came out (to vote).”

Duckworth lost both her legs and shattered her arm in Iraq in 2004 and lost her Congressional campaign in Illinois by only 2000 votes. “I (ran) because I was given a second chance at life,” said Duckworth, a graduate of GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs’ graduate program.

“There is a lack of representation in Congress of vets because they don’t have money,” Massa said. “It’s money that wins elections.”

Murphy was the only veteran featured in the film who won the Congressional seat he was vying for. Of the 62 total veterans who ran for Congress this year, only seven were successfully elected. In 2007 there will be the least number of Congressmen who are also veterans since prior to World War I, the filmmakers said.

“Taking the Hill” is scheduled to air Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Times channel.

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