McCain Calls For More Base Closings In NH Speech

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

Rochester, NH ( - Arizona Senator John McCain hit a raw nerve in this seacoast city Tuesday, when he called for the closing of additional military bases.

In 1990, the Pease Air Forces Base in nearby Newington was recommended for closure by the first Base Realignment and Closure Commission, popularly known as the BRAC. The one time Strategic Air Command Base was formerly closed in 1992, resulting in the loss of nearly 10,000 military and civilian jobs, which took slightly more than $1 million a day out of the coastal area's economy.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in nearby Kittery, Maine, has repeatedly been considered for closure by three different BRACs, but never formally recommended for closure. However, the yard has seen its civilian work force decline by more than 5,000 in the last decade.

During a speech before the local Rotary Club, McCain said he does not want to see the Navy base shut down, but insisted additional military base closings are necessary.

"We don't need the number of bases we had during the Cold War," McCain said.

Then addressing the future of the Portsmouth facility, McCain added, "I think it certainly has a role in future national defense. But so does every base in America. They're all good bases. The question is how do they stack up in the process, when compared with every other base in America."

Should a future Congress vote to create another BRAC, McCain's home state of Arizona, would face the possibility of loosing five military facilities, a fact the senator noted in his speech. "I have five bases in Arizona. I know that one of more of those bases would be at great risk if there were a base closure commission. But I must tell you, we have to have a reasonable, logical system to reduce the number of bases."

The senator's comments were not especially well received by some in his audience.

"We've given our fair share to the whole process of base closures. The loss of Pease helped create a very deep recession on the seacoast, at a time when the state's five major banks were also closing," said Ned Hunter, a non-Rotarian, who purchased a ticket to the luncheon to hear McCain. "I was giving serious consideration to voting for this man, but I don't know now."

"We lost Pease and the shipyard has shrunk to its smallest civilian payroll in decades. Let them shut the five bases in Arizona and see what McCain thinks about that," said a Rotarian. "I respect the guy because he says what he believes, but we need to look at how many nuclear shipyards there are and ask what happens when they are closed and we lose their capabilities. You'll never recoup the loss."

McCain also continued to sound like a Democrat yesterday, according to some in his audience. Referring to a recent Newsweek magazine story on the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the senator said, "I don't think I'm a bleeding heart liberal, but when I see those pictures of AIDS in Africa, I would like to do something about it. I can argue even sometimes where U.S. assistance in Africa has done more harm than good, but I can also argue that perhaps we ought to learn those lessons and maybe we ought to spend some more time with it again."

"I know he's playing to the big independent vote here," said another Rotarian. "But he ought not forget he's running in the Republican Party and some of us think he may be a bit too liberal."