May 2, 2004
learn when to keep mouths shut
SC Statehouse Report
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
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.
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
But both comments were irresponsible. Both politicians -
- and any others who are tempted - - should muzzle similar
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.
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
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:
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
Post and Courier.
Darla Moore. Hats off to the financier for her $45
million gift to the University of South Carolina.
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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