In what some termed a political decision, President Trump chose Huntsville, Alabama, as the permanent home for Space Command on Jan. 13, triggering efforts by officials in Colorado to persuade Congress and newly installed President Joe Biden to overturn the selection.
Peterson Air Force Base was designated last year as the six-year home for the newly created command, pending a final decision, stoking hopes of local officials to snare another military command, along with 1,400 jobs and around $1 billion in new military construction. Northern Command, with the North American Aerospace Command, already are based at Peterson.
But the Air Force said in a release that based on “factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense,” Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal “compared favorably across more of these factors.”
But Colorado officials disputed that, alleging Trump chose Huntsville to reward political loyalists, including Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville (who is facing censure for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot), Sen. Tommy Tuberville and other Alabama lawmakers who advanced Trump’s groundless theory that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”
“There are sources throughout the government, virtually all of them wanting to remain anonymous, that indicate there was, in fact, politics in the result,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said during a Jan. 13 news conference.
Suthers and others vowed to engage Colorado’s congressional delegation to seek, through the Freedom of Information Act, details of the Air Force recommendation to Trump and appeal to Biden and Congress to overturn that decision.
“Folks, there’s no way any community could score higher on those categories than Colorado Springs,” Suthers said.
The Air Force said in a statement, “The White House did not pressure the Air Force to make a decision one way or another,” and that Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett “considered all input, feedback, staff analysis, best military advice, changes in the strategic environment, and what evaluation criteria is the most important.”
The government undertook to identify a headquarters location for Space Command two years ago. Many space functions already are located in El Paso County, including Schriever Air Force Base, which oversees satellites.
The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC has said landing the command could add $450 million annually to the local economy and bring $1 billion in military construction funding.
Local officials note many defense contractors that interface with Air Force space functions have offices in Colorado Springs or are based here.
Suthers outlined Colorado’s “offer” to the Air Force, which included 1,500 acres of free land adjacent to Peterson, a new degree program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to train space professionals, assurance of utilities reliability, a waiver on sales and use tax on construction materials, and a child development center to be located at Peterson. Suthers said the accommodations are worth $130 million.
Considering the categories of concern to the Air Force were the government’s cost for moving, local support of the military and current assets already staged here, there was no better place than Colorado Springs for the command, Suthers said.
Competing sites were Huntsville, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida and Port San Antonio in Texas.
But Suthers said sources told him and Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper that although the Air Force chose Colorado Springs, Trump overruled their recommendation.
Explaining the accusation of political payback, Suthers said the president supported Tuberville in a primary race against his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who Trump viewed as disloyal for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Tuberville defeated Sessions. Tuberville and others on Jan. 6 voted to object to counting electoral votes in Pennsylvania and Arizona, in compliance with the president’s wishes in advancing his baseless claim that Trump won the election.
“Bottom line,” Suthers said, “there are significant political connections between the president and the congressional delegation in Alabama ...”
Most importantly, Suthers and others said, choosing Alabama is against the nation’s fiscal and national security interests, because moving the command will cost more than keeping it here and much of the infrastructure for Space Command, including personnel, already exists here.
In a statement, Gov. Jared Polis called Colorado the “epicenter of national security space,” and said moving it could “harm military readiness.
“This misguided decision would cost American taxpayers potentially billions of dollars and would be fiscally irresponsible if it is allowed to stand,” Polis said.
Bennet and Hickenlooper issued a joint statement, saying, “We will work closely with the Colorado delegation to ensure the Biden Administration reviews this purported decision. We believe a process based on the merits will keep Space Command in Colorado. There is no role for politics when it comes to our national security.”
Even Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, labeled the decision “horrendous.”
A staunch Trump supporter who backed Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud and voted to object to the electoral count on Jan. 6 — after the Capitol riot — and against Trump’s second impeachment on Jan. 13, Lamborn vowed to work with other Colorado lawmakers to oppose the Huntsville decision.
“Moving a critical institution like Space Command for political reasons unrelated to national security would be foolish at the best of times,” he said in a statement. “This decision was not based on what is best for America’s national interests.”
Suthers and Chamber & EDC President and CEO Dirk Draper said they will file a records request under FOIA to discover what led to the Huntsville selection. Suthers also urged all media to do the same.
Asked if his complaints are just a matter of sour grapes, Suthers said, “I’m sure that’s how Alabama will characterize it. But if Alabama had made the case we had made and they didn’t get it and there was evidence that President Trump had intervened, I guarantee they would be complaining in the same way.”
Draper said one source said Alabama ranked ahead of the other contenders in every category. “That can’t be true,” he said.
“The decision needs to [be] based on merit, not politics,” Chamber Chief Defense Development Officer Reggie Ash said in the release. “Colorado Springs will continue to work towards the greater mission at hand and continue to support our local U.S. Air Force Academy graduates, the work of our military installations, innovation from the private aerospace sector, and strong talent pipeline in Colorado Springs, and throughout the entire state of Colorado.”