09 Nov 2017
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Paving the Way for Veterans to Serve in Congress

Re: Nate Fick (MBA 2008); RD Huffstetler (MBA 2009); Dan McCready (MBA 2011); Mike Mullen (AMP 109); Seth Moulton (MBA 2011); Maura Sullivan (MBA 2009); Van Taylor (MBA 2001)
by Ralph Ranalli

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Rye Barcott (MBA/MPA 2009)

“You don’t ask the guy next to you in your fighting hole what his political affiliation is,” Rye Barcott says.

He should know. Barcott (MBA/MPA 2009) served five years in the Marine Corps, including tours in Bosnia, the Horn of Africa, and Iraq. And thanks to the people he got to know while serving, he believes veterans hold a key part of the solution to the current hyperpolarization and lack of civility in American politics.

Barcott has established a federally registered, cross-partisan super PAC called “With Honor,” which is seeking to create a $30 million fund to provide strategic national support to a surge of younger veterans running for Congress in the 2018 elections. The organization focuses on what Barcott calls “next-generation” veterans—military personnel who served after the 9/11 attacks.

Barcott says that the percentage of current members of Congress who served in the military (about 19 percent) is at an all-time low. Even during the 1970s, when Vietnam-era anti-war sentiment was strong, the figure was well over 60 percent. That’s resulted in a severe shortage of members of Congress who put principles over politics. Barcott explains, “but now there is a surge of more than 100 next-generation veterans planning to run for House seats in 2018.”

“We are looking to help veterans who commit to forming a coalition that will put country first over party,” Barcott says. “It’s this hyper-partisanship that has created the incredible dysfunction. In 2018 we are exclusively focused on one of the most dysfunctional bodies in government: the US House of Representatives.

“Longer term, we plan to support next-generation veterans running for state, local, and other federal offices,” Barcott says. “America needs a much stronger pipeline of talented leaders who will answer the call to serve.”

With Honor, which has a motto of “principles before politics,” will select candidates to support who sign a three-part pledge on its website promising that they will serve with “integrity, civility, and courage.” Specifically, With Honor candidates will be expected to return contributions that might taint their integrity, to disavow campaign ads that lie about or baselessly attack the character of their opponents, and to work across party lines—including meeting with a member of the opposing party once a month and cosponsoring a piece of major legislation with a member of the opposing party at least once a year.

Barcott says studies show veterans make open-minded lawmakers. They’re used to working collaboratively, which makes them more likely to vote in a cross-partisan manner. Studies also show that veterans are less likely than their non-veteran peers to commit the US military to solving problems overseas.

“They know what’s at stake,” he says.

Barcott says he and other veterans launched With Honor after months of preparation. “I served with a number of these men and women,” he explains. “They have a common respect for each other. They know what it means to serve something larger than themselves, and how to work together and solve hard problems.”

There are a number of other HBS graduates among the more than 100 next-generation veterans running for House seats in 2018, Barcott notes, including Roger Dean Huffstetler (MBA 2010), Dan McCready (MBA 2011), Maura Sullivan (MBA 2009), and Van Taylor (MBA 2001).

With Honor is conducting a national search for next-generation veterans who want to continue their service. After a vigorous review, Barcott explains, With Honor will endorse the most capable candidates in the upcoming months, splitting its support equally between candidates for the two major parties.

Barcott grew up in Rhode Island and attended the University of North Carolina on an ROTC scholarship. During the summer before his senior year, he travelled to Kenya and lived in the Kibera slum outside of Nairobi, studying ethnic violence. His experience there prompted him to found a non-governmental organization, Carolina for Kibera, and he wrote about it in the book It Happened on the Way to War.

After his military service, Barcott enrolled at HBS, where he met Dan McCready. Barcott worked for Duke Energy as assistant to the company’s CEO after graduation, but in 2013 he and McCready reunited and cofounded Double Time Capital, an investment firm focused on funding utility-scale solar farms in North Carolina. The firm invested more than $80 million in capital before McCready felt the pull of public service.

“I am impressed by the number of principled candidates who served in the military and are running for office across the country,” Barcott says, “but I also recognize that these younger veterans often face incredibly high barriers to run because of the enormous rise in the cost of elections over the past 20 years.”

George Shultz, who served as Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, has mentored and advised generations of veterans in Congress and is serving on With Honor’s advisory board. “Younger veterans are often at a disadvantage to run for office because they have been out of their home districts while serving our country,” says Shultz, himself a Marine Corps veteran.

Other members of With Honor’s advisory board include next-generation veteran Nate Fick (MBA 2008), whose story of being a young lieutenant during the Iraq war was featured in the HBO series Generation Kill; J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen (AMP 109, 1991); and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Barcott also sought the advice of two current Congressmen who are also veterans — Democrat and fellow HBS grad Seth Moulton (MBA 2011) of Massachusetts and Republican Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

“They validated the need for an organization that could provide strategic national support for next-generation veterans and help them win, and for the type of coalition that can break the status quo in Congress and get things done,” Barcott says.

Barcott also sought out the help of David Gergen, who he had met at the Kennedy School while pursuing his joint master’s in public policy degree along with his MBA. Gergen, a former adviser to both Democratic and Republican presidents and a Navy veteran, is a cofounder of With Honor and serves on its advisory board.

Barcott says he knows there will be hurdles to reestablishing a cross-partisan spirit in Washington, including structural issues like gerrymandering that protect highly partisan incumbents in safe districts.

“No individual alone is going to change a culture as dysfunctional as Congress,” he says. “That’s why it’s critical to build a coalition. There is no better group than next-generation veterans to unite, work together, and solve problems that matter for real Americans.”

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Class of MBA 2009, Section B
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