It seems a minor victory, coming as it does after a long series of stinging defeats, but U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn this week thwarted another attempt by U.S. Rep. John Salazar (of Colorado's 3rd District) to close off options for Fort Carson expansion at the Pinon Canyon training site. The proposal is on life support, after being battered by bad PR and a series of legislative setbacks, including some delivered by Gov. Bill Ritter and other Colorado political "leaders." But Lamborn deserves credit for outmaneuvering Salazar's latest anti-expansion efforts in the House -- and doing so even while Salazar was gleefully boasting to area newspapers about what a breeze it was driving another stake in Pinon Canyon's heart (for which he received a nice pat on the head from the usual quarters).
Three versions of events were published Thursday, in The Gazette, the Pueblo Chieftain and The Denver Post. A complete picture of what went down is best gleaned by reading all three.
The Post story is particularly interesting, though, because it has Salazar trying to make a virtue out of defeat by saying that he’s done waging war on the expansion concept, at least for now. It verges on an admission that he and other expansion opponents are engaging in overkill. But that attitude only emerged after Lamborn outflanked Salazar’s latest assassination attempt, by changing minds and votes on a key committee at the 11th hour.
"Given that the Army already can't expand without lots of money approved by Congress, Salazar decided there were enough restrictions in place that for now he will no longer push the legislative ban.
"At the end of day, we have concluded that Pi�on Canyon is off the table for the foreseeable future," said Eric Wortman, Salazar's spokesman, noting that Salazar can continue to deny funding for the expansion through his spot on the House Appropriations Committee.
"It is what John wanted all along — for everyone to take a timeout," Wortman said."
It's dishonest to say Salazar is seeking a "timeout." He's on record as wanting to permanently kill the idea. He's on record saying that it would never happen while he's in Congress (something that hopefully can be changed in the next few years). And he was out in the media, boasting about his latest victory against the Army, even before it was a done deal. Lamborn's last-minute counteroffensive left him with egg on his face.
Realizing that The Denver Post story would raise the hackles of the "ranchers"-turned-activists who have turned the expansion proposal into a cause celebre, by claiming, hysterically, that it's part of a secret plot to kill cow culture in Southeastern Colorado, Salazar scrambled to maintain his hard-line credentials, generating this story in today's Pueblo Chieftain. Salazar had his staff crank-out a strong anti-Pinon Canyon statement after the Post reported he was showing a reasonable side. "The fight to permanently end expansion may be a long one, however, for as long as I serve in Congress, I will fight any effort to advance an expansion of Pinon Canyon," it said in part.
So the promised cease fire was just a false hope. The pandering must go on.
Lamborn took some heat after a similar Salazar amendment passed by a significant margin last year. Local critics often point to that vote as evidence that Lamborn's ineffectual in defending the district’s interest. But this time he worked the issue hard and won, which wouldn’t have happened unless he changed Democrat votes on the committee. Once a majority of committee members really understood the issue, and understood that continually lobbing mortar rounds at Fort Carson was not only gratuitous but could do lasting damage to this state’s economy and relations with the Pentagon, reason thankfully prevailed. Lamborn deserves credit for pulling this off.
This isn’t some tipping point, that will turn the tide of political or public opinion in favor of at least giving Fort Carson expansion a fair hearing. That's still a long shot, in my view, given the political forces arrayed against it. It's one minor skirmish won in a war that's probably lost. But it gives one a glimmer of hope that we'll perhaps see an end to the gratuitous hammering away at the issue, and at the Army, for hammering's sake, by short-sighted politicos hoping to score points with the vocal minority of Coloradans who have dominated the debate.
This demagoguery already has cost the state money and soldiers. And it has the potential to do even more harm in the future, if extreme actions and rhetoric (which Radio host Mike Rosen addresses in today's Pueblo Chieftain) continue to win the battle over reasoned debate.