Seven weeks ahead of a primary election, firebrand conservative Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) has been told by the national Disabled American Veterans organization to “remove any reference to being a member” from his biographic information.
In recent months, Ritze has faced criticism from multiple House Republican colleagues who are disabled veterans: Rep. Josh West (R-Grove), Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) and Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Wagoner).
In late March after the House had advanced a historic revenue package, Ritze and West got into a verbal altercation following Ritze’s attendance of an Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite press conference.
Ritze told David Van Risseghem of Sooner Politics that he feared for his safety when West confronted him about being part of a press conference criticizing fellow House Republican Caucus members.
West commented on a Facebook post of Van Risseghem’s editorial, launching three allegations against Ritze:
1) Ritze wears a Purple Heart. He does not have a Purple Heart. I support Medal of Honor recipients, but would not dare wear a medal that I did not earn.
2) Ritze wears Disabled American Veterans Headgear. He is not a member of DAV and there is no such thing as an honorary lifetime member (per DAV).
3) Ritze claims that he was an Eagle Scout, but according to National Headquarters, they have no record of Ritze being an Eagle Scout.
That same day in late March, NonDoc contacted the national Disabled American Veterans organization by phone, and an administrator named Alice Bersch said that James Michael Ritze appeared in the group’s membership data.
“He’s a member of the national at large chapter,” Bersch said at the time.
But West and others did not drop the matter, contacting DAV about their concerns and apparently starting a verification process that required Ritze to send correspondence about his supposed membership to the organization.
Five weeks later, NonDoc has been provided with a May 7 letter sent by DAV national adjutant J. Marc Burgess to Ritze saying he was “removing you from the membership rolls of DAV.”
Dear Dr. Ritze:
Thank you for your reply dated April 21st specific to my earlier request seeking verification of your eligibility to membership in DAV (Disabled American Veterans).
As you point out in your reply that your membership was considered “…an honorary gift life membership in the DAV” from members of DAV Chapter #68, and further since you have not provided documentation to substantiate your eligibility to membership in our Organization, I am removing you from the membership rolls of DAV.
Article III of our Constitution prohibits honorary members, which is further substantiated in Article II, Section II.1 of our National Bylaws. It is unfortunate that the members of Chapter #68 were unaware of the policies outlined in our governing documents and we apologize that this action is necessary.
I ask that you remove any reference to being a member, honorary or otherwise, from your bio or any other document which suggests that you are a member of DAV. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding in this matter.
J. Marc Burgess
In distributing his letter, Burgess copied the DAV Department of Oklahoma, DAV national membership director Douglas Wells and John Hartman, deputy inspector general for investigations.
A call to Bersch on Wednesday was not returned by publication of this story.
West: ‘An insult to every veteran in America’
A call and a text to Ritze from NonDoc were also not returned Wednesday by the publication of this story. Meanwhile, the DAV’s letter to Ritze has spurred further criticism from other veterans in the House.
“If someone misrepresents their military record, it’s an insult to every veteran in America,” West told NonDoc on Tuesday. “I hope Rep. Ritze can provide an explanation.”
Wednesday morning, McDugle appeared on Pat Campbell’s morning radio show on KFAQ to discuss the situation. Campbell had posted the DAV letter on Twitter late Tuesday, and McDugle noted that while Mike Ritze did serve in the military he is concerned by the situation.
“Amongst military folks, stolen valor is a very serious thing,” McDugle said, adding that he has confronted Ritze about the DAV membership. “Mike kept saying, ‘I am an honorary member.’ He did have a DAV card that people put out there, and we thought, ‘How in the world did he get this?’ (…) They gave him 30 days to respond, and he responded basically the same way to us.”
Campbell said he had also reached out to Ritze for comment but had not heard back. McDugle said he also questions Ritze’s display of the Purple Heart on a hat he has been seen wearing, which McDugle said Ritze justified by saying he is a supporter of Purple Heart recipients.
“Why do you have to embellish anything? If you’ve been in the military, that’s good enough,” McDugle said. “Veterans look down on that in an extreme way. That’s the only reason we call him out.”
Kannady declined to comment Wednesday.
Mike Ritze website changes
Ritze recently relaunched his campaign website, www.MikeRitze.com, and the new site does not mention the Disabled American Veterans.
But a search of Archive.org (shown above) indicates that Ritze’s website formerly listed him as a “life member of the Disabled Veterans of America” during his previous campaigns.
In late March when West made his critical Facebook post, a photo of Ritze’s DAV card was posted in response.
‘I’ve delivered (…) 2,000 babies’
While Ritze — a physician — did not respond to NonDoc on Wednesday, he did speak about his legislative career and personal life during a 47 minute interview in November.
Asked about criticism he sometimes receives from other members of the Legislature, Ritze said he believes he can get along with anybody.
“I’ve delivered — I stopped counting at — 2,000 babies. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pregnant wife, girlfriend or been around pregnant ladies, I love pregnant women,” Ritze said. “I think they’re the most beautiful people in the world. But if you can get along with 2,000 pregnant ladies, you can get along with anybody.”
Ritze talked about his mission work in Mexico and his work as a special examiner for “impaired pilots” for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ritze faces two challengers in the June 26 Republican primary, and three Democrats filed for the House District 80 seat as well:
- Cody Coonce, a 31-year-old Republican from Bixby
- Stan May, a 58-year-old Republican from Broken Arrow
- Jennifer Youngberg, a 36-year-old Democrat from Broken Arrow
- Helen Beth Davis, a 54-year-old Democrat from Broken Arrow
- Janice J. Graham, a 57-year-old Democrat from Broken Arrow