Monday, February 8, 2010

Jack Murtha, 1932-2010. R.I.P.

Congressman Jack Murtha has died of complications from gall bladder surgery. He was 77.

Murtha became the first Vietnam veteran elected to the House of Representatives back in 1974 representing Pennsylvania's 12th District. He would be re-elected 17 times.

His career was nearly derailed in 1980 during the Abscam scandal when he was videotaped in an undercover FBI sting operation. But Murtha was not prosecuted and would testify against two other Democratic Congressmen involved in the bribe scandal.

However, he would come to national prominence late in his Congressional career when he introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives in November 2005 which called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In May 2006, Murtha was front and center on the incident in Haditha where eight U.S. Marines were accused of killing Iraqi civilians. In Murtha's words, the Marines killed Iraqi civilians "in cold blood." Seven of the eight Marines accused had the charges dropped against them. It was perhaps because of Haditha that Murtha was unsuccessful in his bid to become House Majority Leader following the 2006 election despite the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Murtha raised eyebrows in October 2008 when he characterized his own constituents as "racist." While he apologized for that remark he did say they were "redneck" and that "there's still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black." Despite this apparent obstacle, Obama carried Pennsylvania and Murtha was re-elected one last time.

It is worth noting that Murtha had conservative positions on some issues such as abortion. Although he did support embryonic stem cell research he nonetheless received a 0% rating from NARAL.

Murtha served with distinction during the Vietnam War where he was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, a Combat Action Ribbon as well as the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

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