S.C. Statehouse Report
May 2, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0502_mouths.htm


COMMENTARY
Politicians should learn when to keep mouths shut
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 2, 2004 - - Sometimes, politicians simply need to keep their mouths shut - - particularly when it comes to the future of a $5.6 billion industry in South Carolina.

One year from now, the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission will make recommendations on downsizing the nation's military bases. By some estimates, they could recommend closing or restructuring as many bases in 2005 as they closed in four previous rounds.

In that span from 1988 to 1995, the Department of Defense closed 97 facilities and realigned more than 80 others for a savings of $16.7 billion through 2001. Since then, the country has realized about $7 billion annually in savings from having fewer facilities.

With more than 50,000 people directly employed by the military in the Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia and Sumter areas, next year's announcement will have major impacts. An installation or two might close. Or none in the state will close and will, in fact, grow due to other closures.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Arm-wrestling in heaven

FEEDBACK: Sounding like Ted Kennedy

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

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What's important to know is the federal government has a process to keep politicians from fiddling with which bases will close. Base closure decisions will be made primarily on a facility's military value, although the bipartisan commission also will take several other factors into account such as potential savings from closure, the economic impact on communities and environmental impacts.

If South Carolina learned anything from the 1993 round of closings, it learned there were no sacred cows and that politicians didn't really impact base closure decisions. You might recall the military closed two major facilities, the Charleston Navy Base and Naval Shipyard, in spite of the fact that the state was home to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (Sen. Strom Thurmond), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (Rep. Floyd Spence) and a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee (Sen. Fritz Hollings).

With all of that power and decades of experience, they couldn't save the Charleston facilities. Now with Thurmond and Spence gone and with Hollings retiring, why in the world do other, less-experienced state leaders think they can make a difference?

It's because politicians are politicians. They want people to think they can do something about it. They want to create a dynamic so that if our bases remain open, they can take credit. And if any bases are closed, they can act like they tried to do something.

That's the only way to explain recent comments by Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

On Monday, Sanford said Shaw Air Force Base was of concern because it was "the spot with the brightest light on it." In February, The Post and Courier reported Wilson thought South Carolina would be immune to future base closings because it had done its fair share and its bases had high value.

But both comments were irresponsible. Both politicians - - and any others who are tempted - - should muzzle similar future musings.

Why? Because they violate basic rules of introductory public relations. With the world wired through the Internet, their comments surely were read by folks in the Pentagon who deal with base closure. If our politicians discuss concerns or display arrogance, somebody at the Pentagon will take notice and potentially use it against the state.

In addition, by suggesting Sumter might face closure, the governor created a huge headache for economic development officials there. Executives considering an industrial move to Sumter now might pause. Instead of being excited by a vibrant area of the state, they may wonder whether the $600 million of business generated by the base will be there in the future.

If politicians really want to do something to help South Carolina's bases, they can provide Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia and Sumter with more than the measly $50,000 each received to support efforts to fight the closure process. Instead, they should pump millions into these efforts to let professionals tell the great stories each community offers.

So instead of putting their feet in their mouths, they need to put their money where their mouths are.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
5/2: Arm-wrestling in heaven

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


FEEDBACK
4/28: Sounding like Ted Kennedy

To the editor:

Your article on tax cuts (Statehouse Report, 4/18) sounded as though it should be printed in The New York Times. The last paragraph is a familiar tune spouted by the Dems: "....It's nice for lawmakers to give tax cuts to their rich friends."

Take a look at what Florida and Georgia have done with their taxes and the growth that they have seen from Companies coming in and the revenue that it has brought to the state.

You use manufacturing as a defense for your argument though it has been in decline for the last 35 years. Due to high taxes and heavy government regulation most manufacturing jobs have gone to China and Mexico. Any reasonable thinker knows that you do not put your hopes in a job at the textile mill after high school. "Mom and dad worked at the mill and that's what I will do once I get out of high school." That type of thinking will land you on the unemployment line.

It's time to write off manufacturing jobs due to big government driving the costs up so high that we can not compete for jobs that can be done for much less overseas. You were moving more toward the center with your articles but this one sounded like something from Ted (I can't cross a bridge) Kennedy.

-- Jay Auld, Bluffton, SC


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Contract delay. Now that three companies have filed official protests of the bidding process, it's good news the $32.4 million voter machine contract that the state Election Commission awarded to Election Systems & Software has been suspended. More: Greenville News / AP; The State; The Post and Courier.

Darla Moore. Hats off to the financier for her $45 million gift to the University of South Carolina.

Thumbs down

Sanford. What rock did the governor crawl out from under? He gave state lawmakers a list of 16 things he wanted this session at the end of April -- with only 5 weeks left in the session....Most insiders say he's a day late and a dollar short. He should have provided it much earlier.

House "environmentalists." Thumbs down to House members who voted to approve a bad isolated wetlands bill that, as House opponents reflected, would allow a lot of wetlands to be filled without any notification or regulation. Let's hope the Senate kills it.


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