A Star-crossed tizzy

What’s behind the feud between two Vietnam vets?

The flap over Bob Mulholland’s Bronze Star has turned into a commotion, picking up steam as it’s jumped from the op-ed pages of the Chico Enterprise-Record to local television news.

Paradise resident Rick Clements set things off on July 1 when he sent E-R editor David Little a letter. It charged that a May 12 letter (from Sharon Fritsch) in the E-R supporting Jane Dolan’s re-election as county supervisor was false in its assertion that Mulholland, Dolan’s husband and campaign manager and also a longtime California Democratic Party strategist, had received a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in Vietnam.

Clements showed Little the Department of Defense records he’d obtained—with help from Republican activist John Gillander—through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents made no mention of such an award.

Clements, himself a Vietnam vet, suggested that Mulholland may have known about Fritsch’s letter beforehand and charged that “[a]llowing for and using such a claim to win possible votes for his wife is not only beneath contempt, it is against federal law under the Stolen Valor Act of 1995.” The E-R published Clements’ letter on Monday, July 5, without contacting Mulholland.

The next day Mulholland sent E-R editor David Little an e-mail stating that, in fact, he had received the Bronze Star. He then brought the award in for Little to see. Clements immediately wrote a letter acknowledging his information had been incomplete and offering his “sincerest apologies.” It was published on Wednesday, July 7.

That wasn’t good enough for Mulholland. On Sunday, July 11, the E-R published an indignant letter from him charging that the “smear was a conspiracy with Chico Republicans” that had “seriously damaged [his] honor” and that “the most vicious smear” was that he might have violated the Stolen Valor Act.

He was angry at the E-R, too. On Monday, July 12, he told an Action News reporter, “One phone call, and I could have faxed them my certificate of the Bronze Star, and that would be the end of it.”

Mulholland’s takeaway: “Be wary of people in politics making these kind of personal attacks with an agenda.”

He knows whereof he speaks. A political hardball player from way back, he’s infamous for an action taken in the last days of the 1992 U.S. Senate race. At a Barbara Boxer campaign event in Chico, he publicly accused Republican family-values candidate Bruce Herschensohn of frequenting Hollywood strip clubs. The resulting media firestorm tipped the dead-heat race Boxer’s way.

Clements, Dolan and Mulholland have history. Clements, a former executive music producer, supported Dolan early on, once even climbing on a stage to urge an audience to vote for her. In the 1980s, though, she got the Board of Supervisors to turn down his proposal—his “dream,” he calls it—to build an amphitheater south of town. He’s convinced she did so merely to get back at his partner in the venture, Dan Hays, a Chico councilman who’d had the temerity to run against her for supervisor.

He’s been a thorn in her and Mulholland’s side ever since. It’s fair to say he’s not unhappy that she lost.