Pinon Canon moving Lamborn's way?

Wednesday’s striking article in the Pueblo Chieftain reporting that Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) is less than entirely firm in his opposition to the Army’s expansion of Fort Carson on the south side of Colorado Springs not only tends to vindicate the good judgment of Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO5). It also illustrates an enduring principle of virtuous politics: do what is wise in the short term, even when it’s not popular, and time will vindicate your position and reputation. Wisdom, to put it proverbially, is justified by her children. Sometimes it takes a long time: years and decades, as with President Reagan’s call in the 1960s, to heaps of ridicule in the popular press, academia, and in the Republican Party, for the Berlin Wall to come down. It took approximately 35 years for Mr. Reagan’s courage and wisdom to shine forth so clearly that even the moral and intellectual mediocrities in the media and academia, and political mediocrities at the top of the Republican Party, could not deny it.

Sometimes it happens more quickly, as may very well happen in this case. Mr. Lamborn earlier this year was lampooned up and down both by Democrats and Republicans for supporting the U.S. Army’s plan to expand Fort Carson in the Pinon Canon region. Even Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO4) came out in opposition to this military expansion on the grounds that it would hurt ranchers in the Pinon Canon area.

A vote taken in the U.S. House on an amendment, co-sponsored by Musgrave, prohibiting the Army from even studying the Pinon Canon expansion went against Lamborn overwhelmingly -- and that vote has been used ever since by his Republican detractors to show how “ineffective” he is.

When Sen. Salazar, by contrast, despite his comments earlier in the week, proposed in the Senate a one-year ban on Army progress on Pinon Canon to serve as a (**politico-spin psycho-babble alert**) “cooling-off period,” the measure passed by a much more narrow 47-45 vote. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) opposed the measure and predicted he and Salazar will soon (**politico-spin contradict-what-you-just-did-and-reveal-it-to-have-been-shallow-cosmetic-politics alert**) offer a requirement that the Army study Pinon Canon .

Allard’s prediction and Wednesday’s report on Salazar’s hesitations are further evidence of just how far-sighted and apolitical Mr. Lamborn is. Musgrave opposes the expansion on short-term political grounds: there are many ranchers in her rural 4th district, and ranchers don’t like the Army talking about taking their land. It’s a short-term political play, plain and simple, with an eye toward the next election cycle that will be held in the shadow of an unpopular military effort in Iraq.

In another short-term play to environmental concerns that undermines her ostensible concern for the private property of ranchers, Musgrave has joined Democrats in imploring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency to prevent private mining companies from digging for uranium on their own land in Weld County.

Lamborn, on the other hand, has taken the unpopular position of supporting the Pinon Canon expansion for a very simple reason. It is right and good and necessary for national security.

As of 2005, the U.S. military had closed 350 military installations since 1989. The military has been constantly shrinking since Reagan’s Berlin Wall prophecy came true. It requires no lofty genius to discern that, when the military is shrinking base-wise, remaining bases may have to expand to support current and future defense needs. This is especially so when a worldwide (legitimate and important) war against terror continues and 10,000 new troops are on their way to Fort Carson.

Moreover, it’s not exactly like the U.S. Army has a record of abusing private property rights. Neither has the Army chosen Pinon Canon arbitrarily. Neither is the Army talking about wielding the eminent domain power without proper discretion. Many landowners would sell willingly to the Army and have said so. It may even be possible for the Army to acquire all the property it needs without using eminent domain, but there is no way to know this if the Army is not allowed to study the question.

In the worst-case scenario where eminent domain must be used, this case is precisely the sort for which the eminent domain power exists: for the state to acquire the property it needs to support legitimate government operations. Sen. Allard and, apparently, Sen. Salazar are feeling the increasing weight of these unavoidable propositions.

What is not a legitimate use of eminent domain is the constant manner in which the power has been abused over the last 30 years, and is today being abused, by state and local governments for entirely decorative things like parks or, in the recent infamous U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London, for taking one party’s property and giving it to real estate developers who can provide more tax revenue than can the rightful owner.

Almost all of the current parties opposing the Pinon Canon expansion (Musgrave certainly excepted) either support these routine abuses of eminent domain and private property or have been silent in the face of them. But when the Army wants to use the eminent domain power for the purpose for which it was intended, these parties indignantly join misguided Republicans to complain that the private property of ranchers everywhere is in danger and in need of their heroic rescue.

Certainly the Pinon Canon expansion still faces an uphill battle. Left-wingers everywhere who love to oppose any U.S. military moves are up in arms about Salazar’s public hesitations, and local ranching groups will remain fearful. The question will turn on whether pro-defense senators and congressmen can find some other way the Army, which obviously is only looking to do its job, can accomplish its short- and long-term goals, or whether these legitimate national security needs will continue to be pathetically sacrificed on the altar of the 2008 election.

Either way, to the degree he cares about such silly things, there is little further short-term political downside on this issue for Congressman Lamborn, who has already been punished mercilessly by both foe and ostensible friend for his good deeds. There is, however, enormous upside for him should Pinon Canon ultimately move ahead and wisdom once again be justified by her children.