Ned Cantwell: State columnist
Here’s what is wrong with politics: The very nature of the beast puts the politician’s credibility in the red zone day in and day out.
Case in point. There are 51 radar-evading F-117A Nighthawk stealth jets stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo. They are 20 years old. The Air Force decided 10 need to be retired. First, no longer much needed. Second, it would save the country $74 million over five years.
New Mexico’s two senators, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, cried foul. In a joint letter to the Pentagon, they called the jets “critical to national security.” How predictable.
What else is a New Mexico senator going to say? “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press, we have carefully studied the role of the stealth jet and have decided the Pentagon is right. They need to retire 10 of these planes, and probably 15. While this will have a negative impact on the Alamogordo economy, we must, after all, consider what is best for our country.”
This paragraph in an Albuquerque Journal story amused me. The subject was military base closings, the mere mention of which rains on the parade of any politician with one in his or her district. The story talked about Rep. Heather Wilson’s effort to preserve Kirtland Air Force Base:
“Wilson and other local lawmakers have historically opposed another cycle of base closings.”
You’re kidding me? They have historically opposed base closings? I would have thought they would have historically supported putting the local economy in serious jeopardy.
Can you imagine Rep. Steve Pearce, after touring Cannon Air Base in Clovis, issuing a news release suggesting that “really, a lot of what they are doing at Cannon can be done at other military installations around the country — think of the money we would save.”
In the interest of fairness, it is not only politicians who play the in-my-backyard game. It will be the rare newspaper that decides to take a deep investigative look into whether its state’s government installations are necessary.
It is part of the political job to fight for local constituents and when it is a tossup between what is best for my region and what is best for the nation at large, goodbye America. That is not to say Bingaman and Domenici are wrong about the stealth jets. It is to say that just because a politician says it, it ain’t necessarily so.
Protecting congressional district assets is one thing. Angling for the blatantly foolish pork barrel project is another matter, particularly distasteful to the weary taxpayer who sees deficits climbing to alarming levels.
Prime example: Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young is trying to muscle through the system $200 million to build a bridge in his district.
And where would the bridge go? The double span, rising to 200 feet above ocean level, would connect Ketchikan, Alaska, population 14,500, to Gravina Island, population 50. There is an airport on the island, served from Ketchikan by ferries that run half-filled.
It is a pure boondoggle. If we have $200 million to throw around, let’s spend it somewhere important. Like, for instance, New Mexico.
Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He knows he is getting too preachy.
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