David Stevens and Rick White: Freedom Newspapers
Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday he’s pitched one final idea to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in hopes of saving Cannon Air Force Base, but he would not say what that plan involves.
Commissioners could decide Cannon’s fate as early as this afternoon.
Richardson, in a telephone interview with the Clovis News Journal, said he talked with commissioners on Wednesday morning and planned to “strategize” with base supporters late on Wednesday night in Washington, where the hearings are taking place.
“We’re going to give it one final shot,” the governor said.
Randy Harris, a Clovis banker and one of the leaders in eastern New Mexico’s efforts to save the base, said he did not know of any surprising new developments.
“Bill Richardson is doing what he’s done best and that is checking with commissioners and seeing if there’s anything we’ve missed,” Harris said in one of two brief telephone interviews on Wednesday evening.
“There is nothing new (to tell commissioners),” Harris said. “Just that the economic impact will be devastating (if Cannon closes) and the same message that the process used to determine military value is flawed. There is no change.
“Now he (Richardson) may have some new thoughts on how we can work with the Army at Fort Bliss (in Texas) or (other ideas).”
Cannon supporters have suggested several missions for which the base would be well suited, even if its current fleet of F-16 fighter jets are moved as the Pentagon has recommended.
One scenario involves Cannon as home to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is still in its development stages. Base supporters say Cannon’s unencroached air space and bombing range and its potential for growth make it ideal for future Air Force missions, despite Air Force leaders ranking other bases as having higher military value.
Harris said he remains confident, but cautious, about Cannon’s chances of survival.
Five of the nine BRAC commissioners must vote to remove a base from the closure list.
“I see the Commission is still showing independence and thinking through what’s best for our country and I’m encouraged by that,” said Harris, who arrived in Washington too late on Wednesday to attend any of the hearings.
Richardson said he was particularly encouraged by the Commission’s decision Wednesday to remove the submarine base in Groton, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine from the proposed closure list.
“It showed the Commission is independent and is willing to look at the facts and not just the cost savings,” Richardson said.
“I’m encouraged by their independence. … The fact that they did buck the Department of Defense is a good sign for us.”
Ted Hartley, another leader in eastern New Mexico’s efforts to save Cannon, said he was also encouraged by commissioners’ actions on Wednesday and he’s hopeful today will bring good news for those hoping the base will stay.
“I feel guardedly good. I’m going 60-40 in our favor tonight,” he said.
Hartley said he spoke with Harris and with Chad Lydick, another Cannon backer who is in Washington today, and they told him Richardson had made plans to be in Clovis tonight if BRAC commissioners make any decision on Cannon.
Either way, Hartley had high praise for Richardson’s efforts to save the base.
“I do know he has been pitching ideas from day one on this thing and he has put lots of his energy and his ability into making things happen — at a level I did not anticipate,” Hartley said. “It would not surprise me if he’s still coming up with new ideas.”