Fighting The Ax

2 minute read
Douglas Waller

Governors and mayors across the country are lining up political firepower to keep their military bases–and the jobs and income they generate–off the Bush Administration’s hit list. Florida Governor Jeb Bush is paying a team of lobbyists, including former House majority leader Dick Armey, $50,000 a month to help fortify his state’s 21 installations. Presumably, Jeb has George’s cell number, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the chief bullet biter. That’s why California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger buttonholed him at January’s presidential Inauguration; the Golden State has 62 bases to protect. The Governator has also enlisted former Democratic Congressman and White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, who says, “Having a California Governor who campaigned for this President spells political power.”

Although 97 major bases have been shut in the four most recent rounds of closings, from 1988 to 1995, that still leaves 425 active sites–perhaps 25% too many, in the view of the latest and leaner-minded Defense Department boss. Next month Rumsfeld will list the bases he wants closed or moved, and a nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission has until Sept. 8 to approve or amend his recommendations. Then Bush must accept or reject the final list–on an all-or-none basis–and submit it to Congress, whose only option is to pass a joint resolution by Nov. 7 to turn down the list in its entirety. Otherwise it becomes binding.

States are shaping their sales pitches to appeal to the Defense chief’s drive to transform the military into a nimbler high-tech force that can battle stateless threats like al-Qaeda. South Carolina is touting Shaw Air Force Base as the perfect staging area for F-16s to guard the East Coast from a terrorist air attack. Massachusetts insists that Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford and the Army’s research center in Natick are ideal for studying the high-tech hardware Rumsfeld covets, since they’re close to science centers like M.I.T. The state also hopes that one of its hired guns, former Illinois Senator Alan Dixon, will give it an edge because of another job he once had: he chaired the base-closing commission in 1995, the last time the mothballs started flying. –By Douglas Waller

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