Base backers “distressed”

By Marlena Hartz/Freedom Newspapers

By Marlena Hartz

Clovis-Portales citizens, city commissioners and other government officials, perched on the edge of their seats, many with cell phones in hand, watched intently Friday morning from the Clovis-Carver Public Library as the nine-member military-base closure panel debated, and continuously postponed, the fate of Cannon Air Force Base.

Reserved shouts of glee, often followed by bursts of applause, and wide smiles marked the start of BRAC discussions on Cannon. But the mood turned somber, and expressions vexed, when Chairman Anthony Principi called for a recess midway through proceedings, and then expressed reservations over Cannon Air Force Base’s place in the military. The previously introduced motion to save Cannon, presented by Commissioner Lloyd Newton, was rejected by the panel — four in favor, three not. Five votes were needed to pass the motion.

“Painful base-closing decisions should not be avoided,” Principi said, indicating his reluctance to override Air Force and Department of Defense recommendations to shutter the F-16 base, home of an aging fleet, its arsenal assigned to installations across the nation.

The commissioners took turns expressing intimate sentiments and ambiguity over the Cannon vote, due to the 30 percent projected hole it would leave in the Clovis economy.

After a lunch break, Commissioner Samuel Skinner introduced an amendment to keep Cannon, but in a diminished capacity, transforming Cannon into what he called an “enclave.” Under the amendment, the fate of Cannon would again be relegated to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who would look for a future base mission.

That amendment passed by a 6-1 vote with two abstentions.
While details were not immediately clear, the base will remain open in some form until Dec. 31, 2009, unless the Air Force finds it another mission before that.

Committee of Fifty lobbyist and Washington Committee member Ted Hartley frequently changed positions as deliberations proceeded, moving from his chair to pace across the floor of the library’s North Annex, his hands often folding and unfolding.

“I am distressed and concerned,” said Hartley after the panel broke for lunch to consider Cannon further. “I have served on the Committee of Fifty for over 20 years and I believe that there is a place for us. Without the enclave, we have nothing. But if they extend this we will have a limbo situation. Sometimes,” Hartley, also a 9th Judicial Clovis judge, quipped “a judge just needs to make a decision for the sake of the community.”

Furthermore, Hartley said that he cannot put his faith in the current administration with regard to Cannon. The secretary of defense, he said, has already slammed his gavel against Cannon, and is likely to not find a mission for the eastern New Mexico base. Postponing Cannon’s ultimate fate, Hartley said, could end up wreaking more havoc on the economically depressed Clovis-Portales area.

“The whole community would just be uneasy,” and economic activity would “shrink,” Hartley said.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, in Clovis to watch the proceedings, responded positively to the Commission’s nebulous deliberations.

“It’s a glimmer of hope. I think it will take us a while to understand what that means, what having an enclave would entail,” Denish said.

For Clovis City Commissioner Cathy Haynes, the tugs of the morning were emotional, and deeply personal.

“I am like (BRAC Commissioner Sue E.) Turner. When I stand up on that tower at Cannon, all I see is clear skies that go on forever. We all know that Cannon has great possibilities, but convincing the Air Force and the DoD, that’s the hard part,” Haynes said, removing her glasses to rub red, tired looking eyes.

Although it may not favor Cannon, Haynes said she has not lost faith in the BRAC process.

“It looks like they have the concern of the nation at heart,” she said.