U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is a Marine, not U.S. Army. His congressional district is in the Denver area, not Colorado Springs. That means he easily could have ducked out of the donnybrook over possible future expansion of the Piñon Canyon training site, and side-stepped unnecessary controversy by remaining mute on the issue. That's something a typical politician would do.
But the former Colorado state treasurer can see far enough beyond purely parochial concerns to grasp the potential long-term implications for the country and the state if Gov. Bill Ritter signs HB-1317, a measure designed to drive another nail in the coffin of the expansion plan. The Marine in Coffman isn't afraid of a fight, even when the odds are stacked against him. His battle to keep Ritter from signing the bill shows that Coffman isn't your typical self-protective politician, but is willing to take the risks that come with showing real leadership. And it's something that those of us who aren't his constituents appreciate.
The Denver Post today has a write-up on Coffman's continuing fight against HB-1317. Unlike a few others in Colorado's congressional delegation, who either support the measure or are straddling on the issue, Coffman understands that the outright closure of Fort Carson isn't the only thing at stake, once the perception gets around that Colorado is unfriendly to the military. Here's the Post:
"The buzzards are already circling Fort Carson, a major employer in Colorado Springs, Coffman said.
At a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, told Pentagon officials that his state would be happy to have the Army if Colorado doesn't want it, offering up an underused training area where "you would not be sued by private property owners."
While the Army has not publicly suggested it would downsize Fort Carson without the training area expansion, military officials privately told Coffman's staff that at least one brigade combat team is in jeopardy. Army officials have made similar, if less precise comments to other members of Colorado's delegation, congressional staff say.
Any decision to downsize the base is likely years away, but Coffman said the Army's immediate plan to add another brigade to Fort Carson (1,920 troops) is more immediately at risk — especially if budget cuts reduce the number of brigades the Army had planned to add at all bases by 2011 from a total of three to two or even one.
"If they don't do all three, which is likely, Colorado is not in the hunt," he said . . . .
. . . . . Publicly, the Army has said that the expanded training range is vital and still an important priority, though recently it shifted money to pay for the expansion in the Pentagon budget this year to another base in Louisiana.
Coffman said that any effort to downsize Fort Carson may not start with the Army at all, but with officials from other states, who could put together incentives to lure the brigades now stationed in Colorado, including promises to provide infrastructure.
And he said the Army's growing frustration with the political climate in Colorado could be decisive.
"I don't think that the Army will make the first move. It will be other members of Congress that take a look and see an anti-Army feeling among a lot of key elected officials" in Colorado, Coffman said.
"There is going to be blood in the water soon."
There's still an opportunity for Ritter to do the right thing, for Colorado and for the country, by vetoing the bill. That won't make expansion inevitable; that's still a long shot, in my view, considering the political forces arrayed against it. But it will send a signal back to Washington, and to out-of-state members of Congress, that Coloradans aren't taking their win-win partnership with the Pentagon for granted -- and that the rational people, not the radicals, are still in charge here.