Ellsworth Off The Chopping Block

John Thune is breathing easier this afternoon as the BRAC Commission has voted 8-1 to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base open. The Commission decided on the merits of the case that the costs inherent in closing Ellsworth would overshadow any cost savings of closing the base. Ellsworth is the second-largest employer in South Dakota and a major economic force in the west-river region of the state.

Thune was feeling the heat after he said that his closer ties to President Bush would help in saving the base. As it happened, President Bush didn’t seem very eager to help Thune save Ellsworth, which led Thune to threaten a vote against UN Ambassador John Bolton. (Although he did do the honorable thing and vote for closure to give Bolton a fair vote – which ended up being obstructed once again by the Democrats.) In the end, however, it appears as though Thune has been given a reprieve by the BRAC Commission.

This means that Thune can breathe a sigh of relief – being a “maverick” in the Senate is hardly a dangerous position (see Chuck Hagel, John McCain, etc…) and the voters of South Dakota will credit him for working across party lines with Senator Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth in saving Ellsworth. South Dakota’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Rounds worked very hard in persuading the BRAC Commission that Ellsworth was important to national security and that closing the base wouldn’t produce sufficient cost savings. It appears as though their arguments were successful.

Losing Ellsworth would be a major blow to the economy of South Dakota – a state with a population of less than 800,000 people. Even though Ellsworth has survived this round of cutbacks, the B-1B Lancer program won’t be around forever. The next major hurdle the state needs to overcome is diversifying and expanding the state’s economy and improving the quality of life in the state. Saving Ellsworth is cause for celebration, but as South Dakota continue to lose population and face the challenge of transitioning from a mainly agricultural state to a more diversified economic base, the real challenges may yet be ahead.

UPDATE: As you’d expect South Dakota Politics is all over this one – Thune’s rightly stating that saving Ellsworth was a group effort, which it was. Thune knows that he’s going to get political capital from this either way, and being able to reach across party lines is something that South Dakota voters appreciate.

ADDENDUM: The Rapid City Journal has a blog covering the understandably happy reactions in Western South Dakota

ADDENDUM: Red State has even more on Ellsworth and Thune.

One thought on “Ellsworth Off The Chopping Block

  1. Congrats to SD and Thune, I guess.

    Jay, you may want to go to Dictionary.com, look up the phrase “opportunity cost,” and see how that would apply to a community not being able to get access to a bounty of infrastructure (i.e. new buildings and housing on EAFB) due to the whims of a group of politicians who are scared to make decisions.

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