By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer
OK, Randy Harris admits, Cannon Air Force Base supporters are getting nervous. It’s not that news related to the Base Realignment and Closure process is bad … it’s just that no news is being released at all.
And so, “just in case,” Cannon’s Committee of Fifty support group has hired an international law firm with offices in the nation’s capital to be the community’s “eyes and ears” in Washington, Harris said.
“We’re out here in Clovis,” said Harris, a member of the Committee of Fifty. “We want somebody listening and watching at the scene who can call the senators and Congress.”
Harris said he wanted to emphasize that hiring the Piper Rudnick law firm does not mean Cannon supporters have cause for concern as BRAC’s May 16 deadline approaches. The consultant’s mission is to monitor insider information from Washington and relay that information to New Mexico lawmakers, led by Sen. Pete Domenici, who could then be prepared to defend Cannon in case questions are raised.
“It’s simply being at the right place at the right time, hearing the right thing,” Harris said.
Piper Rudnick has close ties to military officials, Harris said, which gives it an inside track to receiving information as early as possible.
In addition to Cannon, Piper Rudnick is also representing Florida’s military installations, Harris said, but there are no conflicts since none of its other clients are home to F-16 fighter jets like those at Cannon.
Harris would not say how much Piper Rudnick is being paid, but said no public funding is involved.
He said the Committee of Fifty is already receiving reports from Piper Rudnick — all of them good.
“When they hear nothing (about Cannon), it’s a good thing,” Harris said.
Harris said representatives from Piper Rudnick visited Cannon earlier this year and were impressed by the surrounding community support and other base strengths, including unencroached air space, premiere facilities and low cost of operations.
The Pentagon has said it plans to shut down roughly 25 percent of the nation’s 425 military installations, though Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said recently the cuts will not be that deep.
Rumsfeld is scheduled to release his recommendations for closures to a BRAC commission on May 16. The commission will make its final recommendations in September.
If Cannon is recommended for closure, Harris said he hopes Piper Rudnick can be retained to lobby BRAC commissioners for removal from the list. If that happens, the city of Clovis and other public entities could be asked to help fund Piper Rudnick’s services.
In fact, a legal ad published in the Clovis News Journal in the last three weeks requested proposals for “business retention and expansion.” The plan is for the city to set up a mechanism for pertinent business issues, Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said, and the effort to retain Cannon could benefit if the need arises.
The Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce was the only bidder on the proposal, Thomas said, and the issue is expected to come up at Thursday’s meeting of Clovis’ City Commission.
Harris said he remains optimistic Cannon is essential to the nation’s military strength and, if Department of Defense officials stand by criteria they’ve established for base closures, he said Cannon should not be targeted.
On the flip side, bases that aren’t closed could be expanded and Harris said Cannon would be ready for that scenario in a heartbeat.
“We have the capacity, infrastructure and runway to double in size,” he said. “We would not need to put a dime into the infrastructure for 10 to 20 years.”
The following is a list of key dates for the BRAC process:
• May 16: Deadline for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to give the BRAC commission and Congress the Pentagon’s recommendations for military facilities that should be closed.
• Sept. 8: Deadline for the BRAC commission to make its own base closure recommendations.
• Sept. 23: Deadline for a presidential decision on whether to accept or reject the BRAC recommendations in their entirety — the White House’s only options. If Bush accepts the plan, it becomes final within 45 legislative days, unless Congress passes a joint resolution to block the entire package.
• Oct. 20: If Bush rejects the BRAC recommendations, the commission has until this date to submit a revised list of proposed closures.
• Nov. 7: Deadline for the president to approve or disapprove the revised recommendations.
• April 15, 2006: The commission terminates.