Two events this past week focused the picture on the future of Cannon Air Force Base once again. The bottom line is they indicate the fight to keep the base open won’t be a sham affair directed by military and Department of Defense officials who had wanted it closed.
For the forward movement we most credit New Mexico’s congressional delegation, particularly U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman. Their behind-the-scenes work since the Base Closure and Realignment decisions in late August seems to be paying off. We may never know what all it entails (unless Domenici and/or Bingaman include it in their political recollections some day). However, we suspect strong words and implications of future actions twisted a few arms and ears New Mexico’s way.
We thank them for their tactics and ask them to keep the pressure on as the fallout from BRAC actions takes shape, and as the politics escalate in the coming months.
The senators were able to insert important language in the Senate’s Defense Appropriations Bill, passed Friday. The amendment would prevent Cannon’s F-16s and crews from being moved until future mission options here are given real consideration. The House of Representatives should consider adding this provision to its bill. With urging from New Mexico’s U.S. representatives (Heather Wilson, Tom Udall and Steve Pearce} it should pass soon.
We also sense that, given his political clout, Domenici’s influence made the week’s other event possible. New Mexico’s Democratic governor asked for and got to meet last Monday with Michael Wynne, slated to become the next Secretary of the Air Force, and other military and civilian leaders, plus Randy Harris of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of Fifty and Hanson Scott of the state’s Military Base Planning and Support office. The group discussed the possibility of a Pentagon-led assessment team visiting Cannon and talking over mission options, with a decision to come in 180 days.
We suspect the meeting might not have happened so soon without the recent pressure leveled by New Mexico’s senior senator, whose party controls Congress and the White House, and thus the military budgets.
After the meeting, the governor, an astute politician who cultivates positive publicity and grabs a headline or two when he can, called several newspaper reporters, including one for the Clovis News Journal. He told them of the meeting and the team’s formation.
Printed the next morning, that announcement clearly caught the Pentagon, Domenici and Bingaman off guard. Few of us like being blindsided, especially by news sure to generate political heat. A few hours later a DoD spokesman issued a statement that the meeting didn’t mean a team was promised, but only discussed.
The governor’s office soon followed suit.
We’re glad. After all, just a few weeks ago he declared the BRAC arena now belonged to the state’s congressional delegation. Then, in his excitement last week, he made those calls and somehow overlooked all possible political consequences from such an announcement.
We could all slap the governor’s wrist for not realizing beforehand the upset and pressure he might create. Leave that to others. They’re sure to remind Bill Richardson that, as a former House member, he should know when a state leader plays on the Washington, D.C. stage, the political spotlight often should be shared and not focused only on one’s own role. And they’ll probably caution him on timing, too. An early announcement allows other political hotshots to take potshots at Cannon’s future with bigger caliber ammunition.
No one, particularly Bill Richardson, would want blame to fall his way should the assessment team discussion not bear fruit.