Vermont Times Argus: Rep. says: Bring Vt. Guard home

By Daniel Barlow
Vermont Press Bureau
March 9, 2010


MONTPELIER – Rep. Michael Fisher has spent the last four years talking about what he sees as the illegal use of the Vermont National Guard in overseas conflicts, with little luck in moving a bill that could challenge the practice.


He's now hoping lawmakers in Wisconsin might be more understanding.


Fisher, a Lincoln Democrat, is scheduled to testify today before the Wisconsin State Legislature's Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on their version of his bill, which would require a sitting governor to confirm war orders calling for the use of state's National Guard units.


"This is not about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Fisher said during a phone call in route to Wisconsin on Monday. "This is about ensuring that the law now in place is followed."


Fisher and other members of the national Bring the Guard Home movement say the 2002 congressional declaration that launched the Iraq War that following spring focused on a specific mission: Remove Saddam Hussein from power.


That mission has clearly been accomplished, Fisher said, but the U.S. government continues to use state's National Guard units to supplement military deployments. The bill under consideration in Vermont, Wisconsin and dozens of other states would require the governors to certify that the law was followed.


"I'm not talking about anything revolutionary here," Fisher said. "This is in the Constitution."


Despite Vermont's reputation as a liberal, anti-war state, Fisher's bill has never gained much traction. This year's version has 77 co-sponsors, but no hearing has been held yet in the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee.


"I don't have any plans to take it up," said Helen Head, D-South Burlington, the chairwoman of that committee. "I have not heard any interest in it."


When asked about the co-sponsors of the bill – representing more than half of the House's memberships – Head repeated that she has not heard any interest in taking the bill up.


Supporters in Wisconsin hope their fortunes will be different.


Fisher will testify today at a public hearing in that state's capitol on their version of the bill, which is similar to the one he introduced in Vermont.


Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, is the chief sponsor of the Wisconsin bill. Some of his constituents suggested he talked with Fisher about the bill and those discussions led to the Vermont legislator flying out to testify.


Like the Vermont bill, Wisconsin's bill orders the state governor to review all orders mobilizing the state National Guard for overseas duty. If that order is not lawful, Black said, the governor would have to block the deployment.


It's a fight that Black said could end up in court.


"We've had major deployments from Wisconsin, including the largest since World War II," he said during a telephone interview from his office at the state's capitol on Monday. "We've also, sadly, had many deaths and injuries stemming from this deployment."


Vermont Gov. James Douglas, a Republican, has opposed Fisher's bill. During a recent interview on Vermont Public Radio, Douglas said military use of the National Guard is a federal responsibility.


"Congress has made it quite clear that when the President of the United States orders National Guard troops into federal service that he has that authority," Douglas said. "Frankly, I don't think a state official ought to issue a certification that's an interpretation of federal law."