By Tony Parra
Portales residents wearing canary-yellow shirts stepped off the school buses at Greyhound Arena about midday Friday with a feeling of optimism.
They had been to the Base Realignment and Closure regional hearing in Clovis to show support for Cannon Air Force Base and mostly felt good about their efforts.
“There was never a dull moment,” said Juily Rodriguez, who stayed after the hearing for a rally that included formation of a human “Keep Cannon” sign. “It was a little hot when we were forming the words (with hundreds of placards) but it wasn’t too bad. (Rally organizers) provided plenty of water and food.”
Rodriguez was with Carrie Maggard and Shirley Christian. Maggard said there were six packed school buses — each 49-passenger models — that traveled to Clovis.
For Portales native Wayne Baker, the comments that stood out were made by Randy Harris, chairman of the Committee of Fifty’s Washington Committee, and U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.
“Randy Harris (speaking) on the military value of Cannon Air Force Base was outstanding,” Baker said. “Heather Wilson pointed out the effect (Cannon’s closing) would have on this area without the base and community support for the bombing range.”
Wilson said residents tolerate having a bombing range in the area because its presence is outweighed by the positive aspects that Cannon’s presence brings, and would be much less likely to support it without Cannon around. State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons has said he wants to put the range’s land back under state control should Cannon be shuttered.
Wilson was one of four state congressional members present at the hearing, along with U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Pete Domenici. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce did not attend, but a letter was read on his behalf.
Baker, who considers himself a Republican, joked that even New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, did a good job.
Patrice Caldwell, Executive Director of Planning and Analysis at Eastern New Mexico University, rode over on a bus with an ENMU group.
Caldwell said one thing that stood out to her was when some of the presenters compared what happened to the economies of Roswell and Amarillo after Air Force bases shut down in those cities. Walker Air Force Base in Roswell was closed in 1967 and the Amarillo Air Force Base was deactivated in 1968.
Tom Howell, public works director for Portales, felt the information presented a solid case for Cannon’s continued operation.
“I would say,” Howell said, “if they (BRAC commissioners) take the information to heart then I feel real optimistic.”