Is Hill Air Force Base doomed?

Is there really a possibility that Hill Air Force Base might close?

Consider the following very plausible scenario, consisting of several parts:

First, that Congress ends up solidly in Democratic hands after the 2014 election, with the House swinging to the Democrats and the Senate achieving a 60 vote filibuster-proof majority. Impossible, you say? It appears we’re going off the fiscal cliff in March. After all, your average Tea Party Republican thinks going off the cliff will be a good thing. Most economists predict that will send us back into a recession. You can argue all you want which side deserves the blame for this, but we’ve been down this road already during the Clinton administration. The Republicans took a beating at the polls then, and they will this time. The nation’s perception of the Tea Party has tanked since the 2010 election anyway; this would seal the deal. Demographic changes will simply add to the margin.

Second, the West becomes a collection of blue and purple states by 2015 – except for the two bright red holdouts, Utah and Idaho. Adding to the West Coast states, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico are well on their way from purple to blue, and the projected switch in Arizona, driven by the Latino demographic changes is well underway (as demonstrated by popular Republican congressman Jeff Flake winning the Senate seat there by the slimmest of margins). Both Montana’s senators are Democrats, and Wyoming has a history of electing Democratic governors, the most recent leaving office only two years ago.

Third, the ongoing fiscal imbalance (made worse by the upcoming Tea Party Recession of 2013) will force the nation into deep cuts in the defense budget, possibly without BRAC as a buffer this time.

Finally, we have to factor in the incessant negative political grandstanding of Hatch, Lee and Bishop against President Obama and the Democrats, including pot shots at Hatch’s old Republican Senate colleague, soon-to-be new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

You may or may not agree that the above will happen – but it’s hard to argue it isn’t possible.

If the this scenario comes true, picture President Obama, Defense Secretary Hagel and the rest of the national security team facing a decision in 2015: For cost reasons, Congress decrees we need to close an Air Force base in the West. Should we close Nellis, just up the road from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home in what will be a solidly Democratic state by then? Or do we close Hill? It’s hard to see how we win that argument, despite the obvious merits in favor of Hill. Anyone who thinks these decisions are made in the absence of politics is loony.

It would be tempting to lay the blame for this on the aforementioned Utah Republicans in Congress, but let’s face it – it’s our own fault. By demonstrating our collective willingness to elect the Republican candidate even if it’s the devil himself, we have taken a tremendous risk. In our current environment, purple states like Nevada and Colorado get wooed by the nation’s leadership like the head cheerleader in high school. Utah gets ignored; she has relegated herself to being the shy wallflower who never gets asked to dance. It’s hilarious how some in the Legislature have contributed to the partisan rhetoric that will certainly bias the nation’s future decision makers against us, and then support raising a measly couple hundred grand to support keeping Hill open.

For the sake of my neighbors and family members who would be decimated by this, I surely hope it never comes to pass. Whatever happens, it may be too late to change events. But we surely need to try.

Utah’s elected leaders, especially Hatch, need to tone down the rhetoric. Despite the anti-government harping, Utah benefits from federal government spending more than almost any other state, Weber and Davis Counties especially. But most of all, Utah’s citizens need to show that elections can be competitive here. Otherwise, the nation’s leaders and major political parties, both Democratic and Republican, will ignore our state and we will be left defenseless in Washington.

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