Politicians rush to defense of sub base

GROTON — The Pentagon has yet to begin another review of potential base closures, but politicians already are making an election-year rush to defend the Groton sub base from even the first hints of a threat.

Five years after the sub base was saved after an initial closure recommendation, politicians in both parties are acknowledging the political power of standing up to even the idea that the Pentagon might take away thousands of jobs from an economically hard-hit region.

“We simply cannot let this happen,” Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley said Thursday during at a press conference at a park in Groton overlooking the Nautilus, the first atomic submarine.

His Democratic opponent, Dan Malloy, sent emails to reporters before the conference, preemptively accusing Foley of politicizing the base.

Groton Sub base

Tom Foley, Rob Simmons and Janet Peckinpaugh

“Our effort can’t be politicized or it risks losing credibility; we need to present a united, bipartisan front,” Malloy said. “That’s why I was disappointed in the decision by a number of Republican candidates, including my opponent Tom Foley, to hold what appears to be a partisan press conference today on this issue.  It’s good they’re standing up for the base, but I think we delegitimize the cause by turning it into what some have called a political football.’

Sen. Joseph Lieberman and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, sent out a joint statement saying, “Protecting SUBASE New London is not – and should never be – a political or partisan football.” Each serves on the Armed Services Committee of their respective chamber.

Janet Peckinpaugh, a Republican who is running for Congress against Courtney, decided to blame her opponent for the potential closure.

The fact that the sub base might even be considered for closure must be laid directly at the feet of Congressman Joe Courtney, and his democratic colleagues in Washington,” she said, blaming their spending habits for the need to close the deficit.

Foley took a lighter approach, denying his support for keeping the base open was partisan.

In 2005, the Groton base was one of 12 recommended navy bases to be closed –- a move that was expected to save the federal government almost $193 million a year. It also meant 15,808 jobs being lost directly or indirectly in the Norwich-New London area, which was almost 10 percent of the workforce.

“Connecticut is in an economic crisis,” Foley said. “I never imagined that in a single stroke, when things are as bad as the are — particularly here in the Groton, New London Area – that we might again be under threat.”

New London has an 11.2 percent unemployment rate — higher than both the state and national average.

But Cathy Cook, who was a state senator five years ago, said preaching economic impact alone will not save the base.

“We have to prove military value, not prove that it is going to hurt our economy. They know that already. That is an important argument for the locals and for the state and we need a governor that carries that message, but what carries the national stage is the question of whether this base is militarily valuable to national defense,” she said. “We made and proved the case that is was five years ago and it looks like we might have to do that again.”

Foley said U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons would lead a bipartisan team to save the base in a Foley administration. Simmons lost a primary for the Republican Senate nomination to Linda McMahon, who did not attend the press conference.

Simmons also is a symbol of the limits of the sub base as a political issue. He played a prominent role in saving the base in 2005, but he was defeated a year later by Courtney, who has has scored his own successes in obtaining funding for new submarine construction.