Putting politics aside to honor veterans with a final resting place

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

The current senseless battle over where Orange County’s veterans will be able to find their ultimate resting place is demonstrating that the very worst of political opportunism is alive and well in Orange County. But even more importantly, it is conversely providing a rare glimpse of the power of bipartisan action to do good.

Orange County has long been a partisan political battleground between Republican and Democrat ideologies, and it’s been rare when both political parties have embraced the same candidate or initiative. Even during the biggest crisis to the County’s financial stability, the 1994 bankruptcy, the two political parties could not agree on an initiative to restore economic health here.

However as of this past Monday night, both political parties overwhelmingly endorsed the same location for Orange County’s first veterans cemetery — a swath of land adjacent to the footprint of Irvine’s Great Park called the “Strawberry Field.”

A cemetery for veterans in Orange County may seem simple to agree on, and the idea has been something politicians have been talking about for decades. But through the years, something has always blocked progress. Developers wanted land uses that could turn profits, politicians weren’t willing to spend their capital, neighbors supported a veterans cemetery, just not near their homes.

This time, some things are different. Veterans, elected officials, business and community allies have invested tremendous time and effort to identify a site where taxpayers won’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars on remediation. The governor supports the “Strawberry Field” location. So does the majority of Irvine’s City Council. A local developer, FivePoint, has pledged $10 million toward phase one of construction. The Orange County Register supports it. Most importantly, veterans carry the hope that this might actually be a place where they can rest.

And still, the effort to build the cemetery at this location is being challenged. A small group of politically-motivated individuals are attempting to derail construction on the “Strawberry Fields” location by launching a misleading campaign to gather signatures claiming to “Save The Veterans Cemetery.” Of course, the cemetery has been approved, dedicated and doesn’t need “saving.”

I won’t take the time in this column to try to explain the devious and shameful actions of this group of people who have misled the voters of Irvine.

I think it is more productive to relish this moment in Orange County political history when both political parties have set aside politics, set their sights in a collaborative direction and have taken a stand so the voters of Irvine know the truth.

On the battlefield, the men and women of our great military don’t fight under the banner of Republican or Democrat. They sacrifice their lives in defense of our American flag, under the banner of red, white and blue.

When they come home, they deserve to rest in a place that represents that same unity of purpose they brought with them in fighting for our nation. They deserve a place that’s close enough for their wives and children and grandchildren to visit, to reflect, to remember and to find peace. The current veterans cemetery location, widely supported across party lines, fulfills each of those obligations we owe to our county’s veterans.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: November 30, 2017