Is Hickenlooper a Reliable Ally?

Our new governor likes to strike the pose of a perpetual political amateur -- as a microbrewer first, politico second or maybe third, who's still really getting his bearings in the cold, hard world of rough-and-tumble politics. The aw-shucks shtick reassures the jaded, disarms critics and allows John Hickenlooper to be the consummate politico while not seeming like one. He'll probably get more political mileage out of this than Ben Campbell got out of his Harley Davidson or Ken Salazar got out of his straight-from-the-box cowboy hat.

A good case in point was the governor's Thursday visit to Fort Carson, where Hick on one hand pledged "maximum support" for the facility, while on the other hand -- demonstrating that he is very much a politician -- slammed the door shut on an expanded training area in Southern Colorado. The Colorado Springs Gazette breezed so quickly over the inconsistency, in just three short paragraphs, that some readers may not have noticed:

"My goal, I think Colorado's goal, is how can we make sure we give Fort Carson our maximum support," the governor said.

Hickenlooper also said expanding military facilities in southern Colorado is unrealistic.

"I think it's pretty clear that, for the foreseeable future, the expansion is off the table. It's just not going to happen," he said.

Fort Carson expansion may indeed be off the table for now, due to circumstances not of the governor's making. He comes late to the controversy and is understandably loath to rekindle it. But it would be nice to have a governor who had the political courage to at least keep the door open on Fort Carson expansion, if that's what it takes to keep it off future base closure lists. It would be great to have a governor who, instead of playing politics with the issue or dodging it, would at least remain open-minded enough to serve as an honest broker and arbitrator, if the day comes when expansion is back on the table.

That's how I would define "maximum support."

I believe much of the firefight over Pinon Canyon could have been avoided, and that a possible win-win could have been found (could still be found), with a little more statesmanship, and a lot less pandering, by the upper echelon of elected leadership in the state. Instead of having the courage and character to call a ceasefire, cool the rhetoric, and step between the combatants as an honest arbitrator, most of the state's top "leaders" have either taken sides (almost always with opponents of expansion) or sought cover in rhetorical evasions.

It's easy to express "maximum support" for this or any other military facility when it is enjoying a building boom, generating jobs and tax revenues, and helping to bolster the local and state economy. Expressing admiration for soldiers is, today, as much a political staple as kissing babies or evoking mom and apple pie. But the true test of "maximum support" for our bases and the soldiers they train comes when conflict and controversy erupts -- like the expansion debate or the possible addition of a new aviation brigade at Fort Carson -- and harder steps have to be taken to keep Fort Carson a viable place to train soldiers.

Can this governor be counted on as Fort Carson's reliable ally then, or will he wave the white flag of surrender in an effort to avoid taking political fire? Thursday's visit to Fort Carson sent mixed messages on that question.