Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Politics of Pinon Canyon

I admire and applaud the last-ditch effort by some area officials (joined by former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, who currently has his eye on the governor's job) to get Gov. Bill Ritter to veto HB -1317, a bill aimed at throwing up yet another hurdle to the possible future expansion of Fort Carson's Pinon Canyon training area. The arguments they make in favor of killing the bill -- as presented in today's Gazette -- are compelling. They echo many I made in this space not long ago.

But I would be amazed if Ritter showed the political fortitude and foresight required to veto the bill.

Though he was elected to represent the entire state, and though the entire state has an abiding interest in maintaining a strong partnership with the U.S. military, Ritter cares little about, and owes even less to, the Republican stronghold of El Paso County (which also happens to be where most of the state's military activity is centered). Vetoing the bill would not only draw fire from the virulently anti-Army drum-beaters in the ranching communities of Southern Colorado, and from statehouse Democrats who have demagogued the issue to death, but from the editorial page of The Pueblo Chieftain, which has egged-on the anti-Pinon Canyon crowd, if only because anything that benefits Colorado Springs must be bad.

Ritter draws a lot of votes from Pueblo. Therefore, he's loath to get crosswise with The Chieftain. And few Democrats in leadership positions (not the Salazar brothers, not Mark Udall, and certainly not anyone under the golden dome) have shown a willingness to counter the knee-jerk opposition to expansion coming from certain quarters. Plus, let's face it, a stubborn skepticism about the Army's plans undoubtedly plays well with two key Democrat Party constituencies, including environmentalists, who oppose real-world military training activities that interfere with butterflies and bunnies, and unreconstructed peaceniks, whose disdain for the military seems encoded in the party's DNA.

Cold, hard political calculus argues against Ritter vetoing the bill. That's why it's highly unlikely he'll do it. But it's good to lay down a marker on the issue now, and put the governor on the spot, since he's up for re-election in less than 2 years. McInnis is obviously gambling that Ritter's perceived indifference to Fort Carson's future, and to maintaining good relations with the military, could be a winning issue for him in 2010, at least here in El Paso County. And with Ritter's polling numbers suggesting vulnerability, perhaps he's on to something.

The question is how this issue translates, politically-speaking, beyond Southeastern Colorado, and whether McInnis can use it to paint Ritter as anti-military, and as indifferent to the economic benefits military bases bring to Colorado. But this has to at least give Ritter pause, before be blithely signs this terribly short-sighted piece of legislation.

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