Wilson, Pearce spar over Cannon AFB vote

CNJ file photo An MC-130H Combat Talon II sits at Cannon Air Force Base in 2006. The gunship is one of the planes stationed at Cannon Air Force Base for Air Force Special Operations Command.

By Heather Clark: The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Rep. Heather Wilson is accusing her opponent in the Republican primary for Senate, Rep. Steve Pearce, of misleading voters when he claimed that New Mexico’s congressional delegation had asked the Pentagon to “please let us mothball” Cannon Air Force Base.

Pearce made the statement on an Albuquerque radio station last week while defending himself against criticism from the Wilson campaign that he did not stand up for the Clovis-area base in an October 2005 vote.

But Wilson said his claim about the letter is “just flat out untrue” and called on him to produce the letter, apologize and withdraw his statement.
Pearce voted to clear the way for U.S. military base closures, which passed on a 324-85 vote. Wilson and Rep. Tom Udall — the only Democrat seeking his party’s nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pete Domenici — voted against the base closures.

Two months before the vote, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission removed Cannon from a list of bases slated to be closed, instead deciding to maintain it as a military enclave while seeking a new mission for it. Cannon has since become part of the Air Force Special Operations Command and is getting new aircraft.

In defending his vote, Pearce said Wilson “deeply mischaracterized” his support for Cannon.

He argued that if his vote supported mothballing the base, then Wilson’s actions prior to the vote did the same.

“All five of us, including Heather, signed a letter saying please let us mothball it. And then she’s saying Steve voted to mothball. That’s misrepresenting your position and if you didn’t want to mothball it, why did you sign the letter?” Pearce said in a digital recording of the radio program provided by the Wilson campaign.

Pearce spokesman Brian Phillips did not dispute the content of the recording and said he would not comment on Wilson’s call to apologize.
“It is another sad example of the Wilson campaign using negative attacks and we’ll just leave it at that,” Phillips said.

He also declined to provide The Associated Press a copy of the letter Pearce mentioned, but did provide an August 2005 press release from Domenici’s office that said members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Wilson and Pearce, had accepted Cannon’s enclave status so a new mission might be found for the base.

Pearce voted for base closings after assurances from Defense Department officials that a new mission would be found for Cannon, which in 2005 housed three F-16 fighter squadrons, Phillips said.

“We have said a hundred times, we did not vote to close Cannon. We voted to save Cannon,” Phillips said.

Wilson contended Cannon’s future was not so clear cut at the time.

“Mothballing it was putting it at tremendous risk,” she said.

Had the New Mexico delegation not been able to nail down another mission for Cannon, thousands of people would have lost their jobs and the communities of Clovis and Portales would have been devastated, Wilson said.

Wilson has said repeatedly that she does not support the base closure process, especially when the United States was fighting a war in Iraq.

“We should not have supported that,” she said. “Those recommendations were wrong for New Mexico and wrong for the country.”