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If politicians want to keep their jobs, they have to put a positive spin on disasters. The minimum the public requires is for them to pretend they’re doing something to fix things.
Trouble is, it’s difficult to deal with dire reality by holding a bunch of meaningless meetings. Just ask ex-Congressman Tom Andrews. Back in 1991, the 1st District Democrat decided he could no longer promote the fiction that Loring Air Force Base in Limestone had been unfairly targeted for closure. Andrews was the only member of Maine’s delegation to support closing Loring and 33 other military facilities across the country. Three years later, that vote cost Andrews any chance of winning election to the US Senate and ended his political career.
Governor John Baldacci, Senator Olympia Snowe, and the rest of the state’s top politicians haven’t forgotten the vengeance voters visited upon Andrews for telling the truth. Consequently, the proposed closings of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Limestone Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and the gutting of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, have elicited just the sort of blather the public demands.
After the May 13 announcement, Snowe rushed out a statement calling the cutbacks "a travesty and a strategic blunder of epic proportions. It is entirely beyond me as to the basis on which [the Department of Defense] made their recommendations, but it certainly wasn’t logic or reason."
Baldacci, asked by reporters what the state should do if Portsmouth is shut down, said, "This base is not going to close."
But it probably is. So maybe it’s time to shift the focus from Snowe’s and Baldacci’s political survival to the state’s economic survival. Maybe it’s time to face reality. Here are a few examples:
1. For all the talk about its efficiency, Portsmouth isn’t as flexible as other submarine bases. Unlike facilities in Hawaii, Virginia, and Washington, Kittery can’t service the largest subs. Consolidating all repair operations in a couple of places saves money. Your money.
2. Even if Portsmouth could be expanded to allow bigger subs, it still wouldn’t have enough work to sustain employment at current levels. The Navy is reducing its submarine fleet and building up its surface fleet. The Maine yard is not equipped to work on surface ships.
3. Portsmouth is ideally situated for redevelopment as an industrial and residential complex that could generate hundreds of new jobs. The sooner we start planning that project, the sooner the replacement revenue starts to flow.
4. As for Brunswick, stationing all P-3 Orion aircraft in one place makes economic sense. But leaving the Maine base partially operational doesn’t. Our governor and congressional delegation should be advocating an either-or strategy. Either transfer all the planes to Brunswick and close the other P-3 base in Florida, or shut down the Maine facility completely, so it can be redeveloped.
5. Speaking of which, Brunswick would make a great site for a regional airport, replacing the land-starved and absurdly named Portland International Jetport. That would free up plenty of prime space for new development.
6. Assuming the Base Realignment and Closure Commission rejects both the call to save Brunswick and the request to close it, the state will be left trying to derive some economic benefit from a ghost town. The sooner we stop deluding ourselves, the sooner we can consider options such as privatizing underutilized portions of the property.
7. A reasonable argument can be made for saving the Limestone accounting operation and, instead, shuttering some other facility. But if reasonable arguments usually prevailed, we’d have sensible tax reform in this state, not to mention lower liquor prices and a muzzle on Michael Heath. Rather than wasting time fantasizing, we’ve got to concentrate on attracting good jobs to Northern Maine.
8. Losing most of our bases could have some positive long-term consequences. As an online article in Forbes magazine put it, "Most communities [hit by base closings] are far more economically resilient than their political representatives believe . . . past evidence simply doesn’t bear out the claim that losing a base is the economic disaster feared by many in Congress." These shutdowns might finally convince our development experts that depending on a single big employer for our fiscal well being is dangerous. It’s past time the state diversified by doing more to encourage small business. Another potential advantage: Maine won’t have to sweat any future base-reduction efforts.
9. The announcement that the state had been body-slammed by the Department of Defense finally accomplished something the war in Iraq, the privatization of Social Security, the Florida right-to-die debacle, and the federal deficit couldn’t manage. For one night, the Bush apologists in my local bar shut up.
That’s got to be worth something.
Time for me to close my mouth and for you to open yours. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Politics and Other Mistakes archive.
Issue Date: May 27 - June 2, 2005
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