If there was ever an issue guaranteed to twist right-thinking conservatives into convoluted knots, the Army’s proposed Pinon Canyon expansion is it.
Here’s some background.
Twenty years ago, the Army acquired 230,000 acres in southeastern Colorado for use as a “maneuver area.” Colorado lawmakers trumpeted the acquisition as key to protecting Fort Carson from closure, pointing out that few, if any, Army posts would have such an asset.
Not everybody was happy with the deal. Some ranchers were willing sellers, but many sold reluctantly. Local governments didn’t particularly cotton to the idea of removing nearly 400 square miles of land from productive use, as well as from the tax rolls.
But it was a done deal. The Army assured local elected officials that there were no plans for future expansion, and, to its credit, took steps to mitigate negative impacts on the land by placing sensitive areas off limits and rotating training exercises throughout the maneuver area, thereby allowing the land to recover.
And now, 20 years later, the feds want to add another 430,000 acres to the maneuver area, saying that the expansion of Fort Carson means that the base will need more acreage to carry out its training mission.
This time, though, the politicians, ranchers and residents of the southeastern quarter of the state are fighting the proposed expansion tooth and nail. Ranchers say they won’t sell; legislators have introduced laughably futile bills that would bar the military from the use of eminent domain to acquire the site; and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, faced with a classic “no-win” dilemma, is trying to craft some kind of compromise between the two sides.
So what’s a good conservative supposed to do?
Few would argue against the proposition that private property rights are the very foundation of our liberties. Remember the uproar that greeted the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, when the court ruled that a municipality could condemn property to enable a private developer to proceed with a redevelopment scheme?
Every conservative I know (and even a few liberals) found the decision outrageous. All of us can imagine how we we’d feel if our homes were subjected to such an arbitrary taking.
Even fewer would argue against another proposition, one embodied in our country’s founding document, the Constitution.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
That’s pretty clear — and the founders made it even clearer in Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to “Raise and support armies … [and] To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers …”
Politicians may bluster, and Salazar may tap-dance around the issue, but this particular dispute is insoluble.
Do you want to throw ranchers off lands that their great-grandparents homesteaded a century ago? Do you want to tear the guts out of southeastern Colorado, by putting another 700 square miles of land into a kind of federal limbo? No, but …
Do you want to deny our military the resources it needs to prepare for and fight the battles of the 21st century? Do you have a better solution for the problem at hand than this one, which, we can be sure, the Army spent many years in devising? No, but …
Unfortunately, there’s no way out of this dilemma. There’s no compromise here — either this land is used for military purposes or it isn’t.
There’s only one solution which would allow the Army to have the space needed for maneuvers, and the ranchers to remain on their land, and it’s not one which would appeal to most of us.
Close Fort Carson, and move it to, say, the Black Rock desert in Nevada — a desolate, sun-baked place where the annual Burning Man festival is held. It’s already in federal ownership and you could build a fine Army base there for a few billion dollars.
Of course, that would plunge the Pikes Peak region into a multi-year recession and the prospect of living in the Nevada desert might not help recruiting … so what do you do?
What trumps both national security and property rights? Politics!
On the Western Slope, residents are unhappy about oil and gas drilling in formerly pristine areas, about the potential disruption of shale oil development and about claims by industry and Front Range communities upon Colorado River water.
On the Front Range, the prospect of a private toll road running from Fort Collins to Pueblo triggered a political firestorm, essentially killing the deal. And now, all of Southeastern Colorado is aflame about the Pinon Canyon expansion.
Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrats in the legislature have been skillfully positioning themselves as protectors of traditional Colorado values — clean air, pristine open spaces, a slow-paced, traditional quality of life. That’s a message that, once more, resonates through the West.
If the Dems prevail in the 2008 presidential election, it will almost certainly be because of the states in the Mountain West moving to the blue side of the political spectrum. And that would mean, in all probability, a sudden abandonment of the expansion plans — so after all the conflict and all the arguments, we’d be back to square one.
Or, as the old World War II acronym had it, SNAFU — which stood for “situation normal, all … (you finish it as you deem appropriate).
Meanwhile, things are heating up a bit on the political front.
Candidate Jan Martin claims that she turned down a $1,000 contribution from a pair of local developers, saying that “I just don’t want to get down in the mud with those guys.”
“Those guys” are reportedly very unhappy with some of the incumbent council members, especially our feisty vice mayor, Larry Small. They’ve already dropped big bucks into the campaigns of certain candidates.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Whether you have 10 bucks or 10 million, you’re at liberty to give it to your favorite candidates or to oppose those you deem less worthy. After all, such expenditures have to be disclosed, so it’s not as if you’re hiding anything … is it?
Well, yeah. There’s a glaring loophole in the city reporting ordinance. Any contributions received after the 19th of this month don’t have to be reported until after the election. That opens the door to a host of abuses.
You could, for example, “loan” your campaign 50 grand, knowing that the loan would be paid off by folks whose support you might not care to explain — until after the election. Or you could fearlessly attack the “wicked developers” — while getting as much out of their wicked pockets as possible.
It’s a little too late to close the loophole, but we could always ask the candidates whether they intend to conceal large contributions until their post-election reports.
Yup, we can ask … and I’m sure they’ll all be absolutely honest and straightforward in their responses.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.