Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., talks to reporters about issues concerning Cannon Air Force Base at a town hall meeting Saturday at the Clovis-Carver Public Library in Clovis. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Politics were not involved in the selection of Cannon Air Force Base for the Base Realignment and Closure list, according to members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation.
Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., all stood strong on this point at a meeting with eastern New Mexico residents Saturday at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.
“I think they just made a big mistake,” Udall said.
Certain factors were overlooked in the analysis of Cannon’s military value, delegates said, such as the expansion of the supersonic training range.
Since Cannon appeared on the BRAC list May 13, community leaders have said they intend to fight the closure of the air base with everything they have.
More than $800,000 has been pledged to this end, officials say, and multiple municipalities and organizations are passing resolutions to save the base. The money will primarily go toward lobbying efforts in Washington, officials say.
Community member Len Vohs stood up in the meeting and spoke of “doubting Thomases” in the community who believe there must have been some political jockeying that landed Cannon on the list.
“There’s some people out there that feel this part of the state, because we don’t have the votes, that we’d be the … sacrificial lamb,” Vohs said after the meeting. He emphasized he did not believe politics were part of the process, but wanted to make the delegates aware the perception exists.
Domenici said politics played no part in the decision, and he received a hearty applause when he said Cannon would not be closed.
“We have had a base (Kirtland Air Force Base) on the base closure list before, and we got it off,” he said. “We’re going to do it again.”
Kirtland Air Force base was targeted for closure in 1995, but a group of Albuquerque citizens was able to convince the Department of Defense its cost estimates for closing the base were low, thereby securing the base’s removal from the BRAC list.
The strategy for getting Cannon of the list is different, however. What the DOD has called a decision based upon military value, New Mexico’s delegates are calling “flawed reasoning.” Presenting the correct reasoning, and coordinating the efforts of all parties, is how Cannon will be removed, they said.
It takes five votes from the nine-member BRAC Commssion to get Cannon removed from the list, which will be forwarded to President Bush by Sept. 8.
“You’ve got strong people here who are working very closely and making sure we’re all pulling in the same direction,” Bingaman said. “We … need to be singing off the same sheet of music.”
Top Air Force brass said Tuesday they will work to close bases as quickly as possible once the decisions are final. Their aim is to seek the quickest savings, they said, and reshape the Air Force and improve the nation’s defenses.
But delegates and community leaders alike say closing Cannon will negatively affect national defense.
At one point, Domenici brought some levity to an otherwise tense situation.
“I’m sure you’re worried,” he said. “It’s fair to say you look more worried now than you did then (before the list came out).”
City commissioner Robert Sandoval echoed the senator’s comments, adding that the community was really worried before the delegates came to town.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford remained resolute, saying members of the community should continue day-to-day life with the expectation Cannon will be removed from the realignment list.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to have the greatest celebration we’ve ever had as a community in just a few weeks,” Lansford said.
A regional hearing with one to three BRAC commissioners is scheduled for June 24 in Clovis.