HELENA — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines is running a new TV ad accusing Democratic Sen. John Walsh of condoning sex discrimination while heading the Montana National Guard — a charge Walsh and current Guard officials say is untrue.
Daines’ campaign ad, first aired last Friday, features Maj. Cindy Neely, a former Montana National Guard employee who said she was repeatedly passed over for a job she wanted and was qualified for.
“Under John Walsh, women like me were mistreated,” she said in the ad. “John Walsh looked the other way to protect his own career.”
Neely is an Iraqi war veteran from the Army who joined the Montana National Guard in 2006, but quit in April after filing a discrimination complaint. She said in an interview this week she wasn’t even allowed to apply for the job and that Guard leadership, under Walsh and his successor, instead each time installed a man who was in search of a new position.
Walsh served as head of the Montana National Guard from mid-2008 to early 2012.
Montana National Guard spokesman Maj. Tim Crowe disputed Neely’s account Wednesday, saying she was not qualified for the intelligence-operations position she sought — but that Guard officials considered her a “valued member” of the Guard and were disappointed that she left.
He also said Guard officials “are surprised by (Neely’s) recent statements and we certainly don’t agree with them. They do not ring true.”
Walsh and his campaign said the new ad is the latest in a series of Daines campaign spots that distort Walsh’s military record and mislead voters.
“Your ads reflect either a fundamental misunderstanding of military service and leadership, or are a deliberate effort to deceive voters,” Walsh wrote in a letter to Daines, asking for a personal meeting to “review ... aspects of my record you have questioned.”
The Walsh campaign also released its own ad on the Internet featuring former National Guard employee Kelly Cogley Gallinger, who worked with Walsh and said he thought women in the Guard sometimes weren’t treated fairly and brought it up with superiors.
“He was one of the good guys (opposing discrimination),” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m sure there are things (Daines) could attack him for, but this one is just so patently false.”
Daines, Montana’s U.S. representative, is challenging Walsh for his Senate seat this year. Libertarian Roger Roots also is in the race.
Daines campaign manager Brock Lowrance said Wednesday that Walsh has bragged about his military leadership and management, and that the Daines campaign is scrutinizing that record.
“It’s all out there in the public sphere for anyone to look at,” he said. “There is no distortion going on here.”
Neely said she approached the Daines campaign with her story, because she felt people should know about the Guard’s “cronyism” and discriminatory actions toward women.
“They continue to promote and advance and make sure that men have the right employment opportunities,” she said. “Very rarely do they offer these same opportunities to females.”
Crowe said the Montana National Guard has taken specific steps in recent years to give women more opportunities to advance.
“We have female battalion commanders, command sergeant majors; we’ve deployed women in all of our units and in all different components of leadership,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to find females in our organization at critical positions.”
The Air and Army National Guard units in Montana employ about 3,700 people, including 667 women. About 600 of the Army Guard positions are restricted to men, so women occupy 21 percent of the Guard positions available to them, Crowe said.
Women are just 15 percent of the Montana Guard’s officers, but Crowe said some of the Army officer slots also may be restricted to men.