Duke and Dunk

Why is Duncan Hunter running for president?

The issues that most concern the veteran El Cajon Republican are defense and national security, and those, he says, are more important now than ever. That may be so, but doesn’t he have a better chance of influencing them from his seat on the House Armed Services Committee? Surely he must know that the last representative elected president was James Garfield in 1880? In terms of fund-raising, he has raised less than Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee, and Dennis Kucinich is closing in.

Readers of Feasting on the Spoils will recognize Hunter as the man who more than anyone else was responsible for Cunningham’s election to Congress. The two were so close that Democrats called them “Duke and Dunk.” They were cut from the same ideological cloth, although Cunningham had a lust for the trappings of wealth that Hunter did not share.

Hunter never put much stock in appearances; his rumpled suit was his trademark and his house looked like a rummage sale. Both Hunter and Cunningham served in Vietnam, but they dealt with their experience in different ways. Hunter didn’t speak about his time in the Army Rangers or his Bronze Star; Cunningham could only talk about himself. And Hunter was a better friend than Cunningham deserved. No one else in Congress would have been caught dead at his sentencing hearing.

Still, there have been persistent signs that Hunter was playing the same games with earmarks as his fellow representatives. One recently retired senior Appropriations staffer told me that the word about Hunter was that there wasn’t a deal too dirty for him to touch.

For someone who says the military budget isn’t big enough, Hunter has been all too willing to spend defense dollars on things the military didn’t want. There was DuPont Aerospace’s DP-2 , which has never flown and Project M, a magnetic levitation technology the military didn’t want. And Hunter has literally forced the Navy to make use of his pet project, L3’s Sea Fighter, which looks like one mean-ass ferry.

Dunk, however, is no Duke. While they were digging into Cunningham’s dirty secrets, federal investigators looked closely at Hunter but came up empty. And unlike most of the gasbags in Congress, what Hunter does to and for the military affects him personally. His son, also named Duncan, is a Marine officer serving in Iraq and is now running for his father’s seat in Congress.

Hunter may not have been lining his pockets as his friend was, but earmarks were the currency of power in Congress. Until recently, Hunter wielded that power as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The Democratic takeover of the House cost him that plum assignment for which he had endured years as a member of the minority party. A few days before the 2006 midterm elections, Hunter announced his intention to bring his 26-year career in Congress to a close. But not before he went out with one final roar.

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