Governor: Cannon has ‘less than 50-50″ chance

Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — Defenders of Cannon Air Force Base will learn late this week whether three anxious months of lobbying can reverse the Pentagon’s decision to close the base.

Beginning today, the nine-member Base Closure and Realignment Commission is scheduled to take a series of votes to settle the fate of Cannon and 32 other major military bases as part of the Pentagon’s massive cost-saving effort.
“I feel that we have an outside chance, but less than 50-50,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

The commissioners charged with reviewing the Defense Department’s plan for streamlining the military complex will gather in Arlington, Va., at 6 a.m. (MDT) today to begin considering each of the Pentagon’s recommendations.

The votes are expected to go fast, starting with the Army and Navy, the Air Force possibly as early as Thursday and wrapping up by Saturday.

City of Clovis officials said they expect to learn Cannon’s fate on Friday.

State officials plan to lobby up to the last minute.
Richardson said he spent Tuesday afternoon working the phones talking to commissioners. No commitments had been made, he said, but he thought state officials’ efforts had helped improve Cannon’s chances.

“Only 15 percent of the decisions are overturned,” he said. “We’ve markedly improved our situation.”

Officials estimate that closing Cannon would cost 2,385 military and 384 civilian jobs and as many as 2,000 more related jobs. Cannon, which is home to four F-16 fighter squadrons, represents a third of the local economy.

When the news came in May that the Pentagon intended to close Cannon, Richardson held a town hall meeting where officials urged an overflow crowd of Clovis-area residents to call, send e-mails and rally around Cannon. A similar effort saved Kirtland Air Force Base from closure in 1995, and officials vowed to do it again for Cannon.

No one can say what will happen this week, but Cannon boosters are optimistic that BRAC commissioners have recently questioned the Pentagon’s estimate for how much it would save by closing or downsizing bases.

New Mexico officials say one of their strongest arguments is that closing the base would not save the $2.7 billion over 20 years as the Pentagon predicts.

Officials say many of the jobs would move to other bases. Meanwhile, Cannon’s economic impact has been estimated at $200 million a year. Closing the base would devastate the local economy and the effects would be felt by all of eastern New Mexico, they say.

“You’re really not getting a cost savings,” said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “This is a very independent commission. I just feel that in my bones. I think they’re somewhat skeptical of the Defense Department’s justifications.”

State officials also have worked hard to paint Cannon as a base with a lot of potential.

They say the Air Force has worked to expand the training range around the base, both in space and supersonic capabilities.

Earlier this month, Richardson announced that property owners near the base have agreed to sell land to enable it to nearly double in size. And New Mexico’s congressional leaders contended the joint strike fighter mission, the F-35, would be a good fit for the base.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he hadn’t given up on anything yet. “I’m not inclined to say anything is a dead issue,” he said. “I think we’ve made some very good arguments for keeping Cannon open.”

Still, officials are waiting on pins and needles.

“I’m nervous because I don’t know how it will come out,” Bingaman said.