As the TX-24 Democrat runoff continues to drag on, supporters of DC Dem favorite Candace Valenzuela are going negative and bringing up disgraced war profiteer Kim Olson’s misdeeds in Iraq, calling out her “selfishness and lack of integrity.”
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Kim Olson’s departure from the Air Force hasn’t been a political liability. Will that change in 2020?
April 23, 2020
In Kim Olson’s still relatively young political career, her opponents have mostly steered clear of making a major issue out of the contracting scandal that led to her retirement from the Air Force in 2005.
Texas’ swashbuckling agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, barely brought it up when she ran a surprisingly close race against him in 2018.
This year, she advanced in the first round of a crowded, mostly cordial Democratic U.S. House primary that saw little airing of the scandal. Her runoff opponent, Candace Valenzuela, hasn’t brought it up yet.
However, as she approaches the July runoff, Olson is poised to potentially confront the issue in a way that she has not had to before. Some Valenzuela supporters are starting to go public with concerns about her military career — and whether it would be too much of a general-election liability in a district that national Democrats are hoping to flip.
All the while, national Republicans have kept up a drumbeat suggesting that hounding her as a “war profiteer” would be central to their November playbook in the district. She rejects that term, calling it plainly inaccurate, but acknowledges the attacks are not going away anytime soon — and argues that she is well-prepared to fend them off.
The issue dates back to Olson’s time in Iraq in the early 2000s, when she served as the No. 2 to Gen. Jay Garner as he led the American rebuilding effort there. Instead of providing Garner’s team with military protection, the Department of Defense hired a group of South African bodyguards that Garner and Olson later said they came to greatly appreciate. When Garner was replaced several months later, he asked Olson to help the South Africans find continued work with the military using her expertise in the U.S. contracting process.
Along the way, Olson established a U.S. outpost of the South Africans’ security firm, Meteoric, and allegedly made herself the director. Within months, the Pentagon caught wind of the arrangement and conducted an investigation that accused her of improperly helping Meteoric win lucrative government contracts.
Olson denied the allegations and said she never personally profited from the Meteoric contracts. She eventually received a nonjudicial punishment known as an Article 15. She agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges, including creating the appearance of a conflict of interest, and received a formal reprimand and $3,500 fine. She was permitted to retire with an honorable discharge and no reduction in rank.
Valenzuela’s campaign had no comment for this story. But one of her recent endorsers in the runoff, a progressive veterans group called Common Defense, is sounding the alarm about Olson, saying she “used her position of power in the military to steer $3 million to South African bodyguards, then went into business with them.”
“As veterans, we support elected officials who will fight for us, not themselves,” Common Defense’s political director, Alexander McCoy, said in a statement. “We won’t give someone a rubber stamp just because they’re a fellow veteran, we vote for the candidate who represents the same values of integrity and character we hold dear. The person in this race who represents those values is Candace Valenzuela.”
McCoy was harsher in an interview, saying Olson “displayed incredibly poor judgment” in Iraq as well as a “selfishness and lack of integrity.”
While the intraparty criticism of Olson may be limited so far, Republicans have hammered the line of attack since Olson’s campaign began. Hours after she launched her campaign last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee welcomed her to the race with a statement invoking the contracting controversy.
“If Democrats are foolish enough to nominate disgraced war profiteer Kim Olson, she’ll be rejected in November as Texans learn more about the criminal enterprise she ran at the expense of our troops in Iraq,” NRCC spokesman Bob Salera said in a statement for this story.
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