By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist
It was Clovis against the world. You think the La Cueva Bears are tough? How about the government putting a “closed” sign on Cannon Air Base and choking the town until it gasps for air?
It’s a tough bunch, this Clovis gang, whether on the football field, at the coffee shop, or in the boardroom. Independent. Confident. Some of them were taking Clovis and spotting the world three points.
The stakes were huge. Take Cannon off the table and suddenly Clovis is no longer a thriving little city in the middle of nowhere, it is the Last Picture Show.
You didn’t have to be from Clovis or her environs to get caught up in the drama. Last week’s televised BRAC proceedings were the most captivating viewing since the Watergate hearings.
For those of us watching from other parts of the state, it was like rooting for family. It was like waiting in the auditorium while a panel of judges decided if your granddaughter made the high school cheerleading team, and ready to hurt someone if she didn’t. How dare the military establishment threaten our Clovis friends?
Friday morning was crunch time. The BRAC folks — that’s the Base Closure and Realignment Commission — were nearing a decision on whether Clovis would still host the hot shots or whether her runways may become the world’s longest golf driving range.
There were moments of encouragement. I perked up when Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said his introduction to the military was at NMMI in Roswell. That tie to New Mexico has to help, I thought.
Further encouragement came from a couple of the commissioners who made Clovis sound like a garden spot. By the time they get done gushing about Clovis, I’m thinking there are millionaires in West Palm saying, “Maybe we ought to sell out and move on up there.”
No matter what happens, the town’s hero is retired Gen. Lloyd Newton. They need to put a statue of this BRAC commissioner in the town square. His articulate championing of the Cannon cause nearly saved the day, and, in any event, most likely led to the compromise that gives the air base a shot at survival.
The first disheartening indication that Clovis was in big trouble came when a couple of commissioners looked at the camera and stated talking about this being a “painful decision.”
One said something to the effect, “this is the hardest decision I have ever made in my life.” When a guy says that, it’s like your wife saying, “We’ve got to talk,” a clear signal you need to get out of Dodge while the getting is good.
As it is, Clovis lost. Not the air base. It has a few years of grace to find something else to do with the facility, another military mission its priority goal. But the planes and people, over a period of a few years, will go.
Already the Clovis News Journal is full of stories of the community buckling down for a new fight, not next week, but now. Clovis still wants to spot the world three points, and the rest of New Mexico needs to back the gutsy town.
Everyone from Gov. Bill Richardson to BRAC commissioners to South Dakota politicians who saved Ellsworth Air Force Base from closing keep reminding us this has nothing to do with politics. When you hear everyone saying something has nothing to do with politics, you can know for certain:
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