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Norwich Bulletin September 7, 2005

Sub base dissenter explains vote

By Katherine Hutt Scott

WASHINGTON-- Former GOP congressman James Hansen of Utah, the only member of a federal base-closing commission who voted against saving the Groton submarine base, describes himself as "an old, hardheaded, Western redneck."

"I'm probably the hardest head of the bunch (of nine commissioners)," Hansen, 73, said in an interview Friday explaining his dissenting vote despite what he called a "phenomenal" effort by Rep. Rob Simmons to save his local base.

Some familiar with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission's Aug. 24 vote, which overturned a Pentagon recommendation to close Groton, disagreed with Hansen's self-assessment.

Simmons, R-2nd District, who served on the House Armed Services Committee with Hansen, described him as "very rational, very logical" and "a wonderful person."

Simmons said he got to know Hansen when the Utah congressman was chairman of the House Resources Committee. The first bill Simmons introduced as a congressman, to protect Connecticut's Eightmile River by designating it as a "wild and scenic" waterway, had to be approved by Hansen's committee.

Simmons said to gain Hansen's blessing, he had to do some political horse-trading. Simmons, a Sierra Club member, said he had to sacrifice his support of a proposed expansion of a park in Hansen's district that Hansen opposed.

"We had some interesting discussions," Simmons said. "We got to like each other."

Political theory

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, had a political explanation for Hansen's vote on Groton.

Pike said Hansen appeared to be playing along with a political decision by the commission to save Groton as a favor to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a prominent Democrat. The favor was necessary to offset a similar favor for Republican Sen. John Thune, to save South Dakota's Ellsworth Air Force Base, Pike thinks.

"They couldn't just do closures to help Republicans," Pike said. "It would be transparently political."

Pike said Hansen cast a dissenting vote so the Groton decision didn't appear to be "stinky."

"In order to save appearances, they didn't want it to be unanimous," Pike said.

But a longtime observer of Hansen confirmed the former congressman is an independent thinker who does what he thinks is right.

"He's not a go-along, get-along type of person," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Especially at this stage in his career, he would not be persuaded by (politics) if he genuinely believes they have a mandate to close bases."

Hansen said his reason for not saving Groton was the same that he stated publicly just before he cast his vote: Navy officials had convinced him the country has more piers and other infrastructure to support submarines than it needs -- and that excess infrastructure would be costly for the country.

"I put a little more emphasis (than the other commissioners did) on the lack of savings when it seemed obvious that we had way too much infrastructure," Hansen said Friday.

Hansen also said before he cast his vote that if the Pentagon wanted to close an East Coast submarine base, it should have put all three, including those in Virginia and Georgia, on the closure list for consideration by the commission.

On Friday, Hansen said he wasn't able to pick which of the three would be the best to close, because he hadn't visited all three. He visited Groton twice during his 1981-2003 tenure in Congress, he said.

Hansen, who now has a consulting firm in Farmington, Utah, praised Groton as "an outstanding base."

He also praised Simmons as doing the best job of all the people who petitioned this year's commission to keep their bases open.

"What really won that (decision in favor of Groton) was Rob Simmons," Hansen said. "He did a phenomenal job."

Hansen said he had no regrets about his vote on Groton: "I made the vote predicated on what I thought was right."


Copyright 2005, Norwich Bulletin