State Rep. Rida Cabanilla Arakawa, an Army Reservist who beat a Democratic opponent in Saturday’s primary election, may have violated Pentagon policy on campaigning in uniform.
Violations of the policy have occurred across the country, but an Army Reserve lawyer here said little can be done to political candidates who are part-time soldiers.
Cabanilla Arakawa, a state representative in District 42 (Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch, Ewa), sent out a four-page campaign brochure that shows her in an Army uniform with an American flag behind her, her rank of lieutenant colonel below the photo, and a quote that states, "I serve to defend your freedom."
Cabanilla Arakawa, who has been in the military for 23 years and was elected to the state House in 2004, said more than 2,000 of the fliers were mailed.
The Defense Department issued a directive in 2008 on political activities by members of the armed forces.
One section of the rules states that military members not on active duty — including Army Reservists — may not use photos in uniform as the "primary graphic representation" in a campaign flier, billboard, website or TV commercial.
Allowable is the use of photos in uniform when displayed with other nonmilitary biographical detail, but the campaign material must be accompanied "by a prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer" that the photo does not imply endorsement by the Pentagon.
Cabanilla Arakawa said Wednesday that she checked Army policy but was not aware there were also Defense Department regulations.
"DOD, that’s one thing — I did not go that far," she said. "Now I know."
The photo she used dates back 23 years to her rank as a second lieutenant.
"To me (the photo in uniform) is a revelation of my identity — who I am and what I have accomplished in my lifetime," Cabanilla Arakawa said.
Cabanilla Arakawa beat her Democratic opponent, Mike Schultz, 1,535 votes to 1,407, and will face Republican Tom Berg in the Nov. 2 general election.
John Bond, an Ewa Beach resident in Cabanilla Arakawa’s district who received a flier, called it a "misrepresentation" of the uniform.
Similar accusations for federal office have cropped up in Idaho, North and South Carolina, New York, Colorado, Indiana, Rhode Island and Ohio.
Col. Floresita Quarto, commander of Cabanilla Arakawa’s unit, the 1984th U.S. Army Reserve Hospital, said in an e-mailed statement that the campaign ads have been brought to her attention and that the situation is under review.
"It would be premature to comment as to any future actions at this point," Quarto said.
The state Ethics Commission said the photo use issue is a federal question.
Col. Jordan Clouse, deputy staff judge advocate for the 9th Mission Support Command at Fort Shafter Flats, which oversees Reserve units in the Pacific, said as long as a campaign ad photo with a candidate in uniform is balanced by other civilian photos, there is no problem.
"I would say if you looked at an ad or a billboard or something and it looked like it was lieutenant colonel somebody running for office, or major somebody or sergeant somebody running for office versus Mr. or Ms., then, yeah, I think that would be an issue with DOD policy," Clouse said.
Clouse said former City Councilman Charles Djou, also an Army Reservist, consulted with Army lawyers about the use of photos in uniform prior to his election to Neil Abercrombie’s vacated congressional seat.
The 2008 Pentagon directive states that the policy is in "keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval or endorsement."
"With the Reserves it’s very difficult," Clouse said. "I would probably say the biggest remedy for that is to counsel the person and say, ‘Hey, did you know this is wrong and it violated policy? You need to change it.’"