Byron for the Navy

January 08, 1993

In the wake of the Tailhook scandal, President-elect Clinton would be well-advised to appoint a woman as secretary of the Navy. He has an excellent candidate in former Maryland Rep. Beverly B. Byron, a veteran Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee who chaired its personnel subcommittee, a panel in charge of 42 percent of Navy authorizations.

Maryland, the site of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, has a long seafaring tradition, and so does Mrs. Byron. Her father, Capt. Harry C. Butcher, was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's chief naval aide in World War II. She grew up a Navy brat and understands the service well.

Mrs. Byron, who was defeated last spring in her bid for a ninth term in Congress from Maryland's Sixth District, is not coy in acknowledging her interest in the post. "The Navy needs a calming influence," she says, after the turmoil and demoralization arising from the sexual harassment of 26 Navy women, 14 of them officers, at a 1991 convention of the Tailhook Association of Navy airmen. She worked closely with Defense secretary-designate Les Aspin, then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in investigating the scandal and later said that personnel implicated in such gross behavior should be identified and prosecuted.

President Bush considered Mrs. Byron when he was looking for a new Navy secretary last summer, but decided instead to stick to the all-male pattern for service secretaries that needs to be shattered. The Navy, with its problems, is a prime candidate.

With her conservative voting record and her consistent support for the needs of the armed forces, Mrs. Byron would be a strong appointment, one who would draw support from both parties. She is a longtime member of the Democratic Leadership Council, which was chaired at one point by Mr. Clinton, and is well known to leaders in the moderate ranks of her party. Her support for an expanded role for women in combat is firmly established. As an expert in personnel matters, she would be a voice for prudent manning of the fleet as it is downsized in the post-Cold War era. Only in this way can the quality of the force be maintained.

For Maryland, a Byron appointment would be not only gratifying but reassuring during a period in which bases all over the country are being studied for possible closing. Just this week, Mr. Bush appointed her to a national base-closing commission. We urge Mr. Clinton to give serious consideration to Beverly Byron for the Navy.

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