R.I. lawmaker sticks with story despite discrepancies
PROVIDENCE - Rhode Island state Representative Daniel Gordon didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician. He wanted to be a Marine.
That life ended, he said, eight miles south of Baghdad in 1991 when his right leg caught some flying shrapnel.
His military career shattered, reeling from post-traumatic stress, Gordon said he turned to alcohol. Trouble followed.
In the two decades that followed, Gordon racked up a long list of offenses. He served four months after being convicted of assault with a pool cue and handgun in 1996. Charges of attempted murder stemming from a fight with a girlfriend were dismissed in 2004.
His Massachusetts driving record lists dozens of infractions dating back to the 1980s.
Now the 42-year-old Portsmouth Republican is facing calls for his resignation after his arrest last week on charges stemming from a 2008 police chase and the criminal record that came to light afterward. And his military file, meanwhile, shows no deployments to the Middle East.
Gordon insists he’s reformed. He says he no longer drinks, and that his legislative service gives him back some of the self-respect and purpose he lost when he left the Marines.
“I’ve made some terrible mistakes,’’ he said. “That’s in the past. I saw the light, so to speak, and turned my life around.’’
But questions about Gordon’s past persist. In addition to showing no deployments to the Middle East, a military service file for Gordon obtained by the Associated Press shows no awards given to personnel who served in the war.
Gordon said the file is incomplete, and that photos that could prove his story were destroyed in a 2005 house fire when he lived in Fall River, Mass. He said he didn’t know how to contact some of the other Marines who served with him.
Gordon was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives after winning by just 47 votes. He was a political unknown who had never held public office.
“I was surprised when he won,’’ said his aunt, Regina Mack, of Warminster, Pa. “He’s just an honest guy, and I didn’t think people like that got elected.’’
Gordon said he only ran for office because no other conservative Republicans expressed interest in the seat. He said he’d wanted to serve the public since he quit drinking two years before.
“I felt again the tug of service,’’ he said.
Gordon quickly gained notice for his impassioned floor speeches and at-times controversial views. He made headlines in March after he criticized Tiverton High School for forming a Gay-Straight Alliance. He soon earned the wrath of his fellow GOP lawmakers by making disparaging comments about them online.
The House Republican Caucus voted to expel Gordon earlier this month. Gordon said he blames his ouster on a “secret cabal’’ and said he never said anything inappropriate about any of his colleagues.
GOP lawmakers didn’t know about Gordon’s criminal record, said minority leader Brian Newberry, Republican of North Smithfield.
“It had no bearing on our decision, but it does seem to vindicate it,’’ he said.
Gordon was arrested after he went to the state police to complain about someone posing as him while commenting on a blog. The state police learned that Gordon had a suspended license, as well as a warrant for his arrest from Massachusetts for a 2008 charge of eluding police.
Gordon also served four months in a Massachusetts jail in 1999 for a conviction of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. According to police, Gordon struck one man over the head with a pool cue during a bar fight and threatened another with a handgun. Police found Gordon hiding in underbrush, and confiscated a sword, a knife, and a rifle from his home.
In 2004, Gordon was accused in Fall River of assaulting a girlfriend, but the charges were dismissed when Gordon paid court costs. According to the police report, the woman said Gordon had tried to choke her to death. The same woman paid Gordon’s bail last week, court records show, and Gordon said they remain best friends.
Records also show Gordon has a lengthy driving record in Massachusetts that dates to the 1980s.
Gordon said his use of alcohol to deal with combat stress from the war caused many of his legal difficulties. He said he gave up drinking three years ago and is in counseling for alcoholism and for post-traumatic stress.
Yet his military records show only that Gordon joined the Marines on June 4, 1987, and served at bases in the United States and spent six months with an aviation unit in Japan.
Gordon said his right leg was struck by shrapnel “eight miles south of Baghdad’’ in 1991. He said his unit was based in Bahrain.
Gordon’s file would indicate any time spent in the Middle East, said Major Shawn Haney, a public affairs officer with the Marines.
“I can assure you, I was there,’’ Gordon said Wednesday.
Gordon said he doesn’t know why he didn’t receive a Purple Heart for his injury, but he said he never requested the award. He said he’s never claimed to have earned one.
Other lawmakers say they are sympathetic, but said Gordon should step down to deal with his problems to ensure he doesn’t become a political distraction.
“I don’t think he can effectively serve his constituents,’’ said Representative Dan Reilly, Republican of Portsmouth.
Gordon said he expected his criminal record to be exposed on the campaign trail and was surprised when it was not. At a news conference to announce his intention to keep his seat, Gordon recited the poem “Invictus,’’ William Ernest Henley’s Victorian poem of resilient courage in the face of adversity. Gordon said he felt “a weight lifted off my shoulders.’’
Now, as questions persist about his military service, Gordon said he’s feeling that weight pressing down again.
“I still have ‘Invictus’ ringing in my head,’’ he said. “I feel like Atlas holding the world up. Your knees start buckling.’’