SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic candidate for governor Peter Cooke warned Tuesday that something must be done to protect Hill Air Force Base from another round of base closures.
But Cooke offered no specific proposals at his campaign’s news conference detailing Oklahoma’s efforts to ensure Tinker Air Force Base there remains open, including spending $55 million to buy a closed auto plant now leased by the military.
“I’m trying to point out today that is an issue,” Cooke, a retired general in the U.S. Army Reserves, said after a presentation by an Oklahoma County commissioner. “They are competitive and they have moved forward. We have not.”
Compared to Oklahoma’s investment in the military, Cooke said Utah is “behind the eight ball” with some jobs already relocated to the Oklahoma base and another Base Realignment and Closure Commission anticipated in 2015.
He said he would be willing to consider “any way we can find a way to secure the jobs we have now” at HAFB, one of the state’s largest employers, including bonding for millions of dollars as Oklahoma did.
However, Cooke said until he has the standing as an elected leader to meet with military brass, he won’t be able to come up with a plan for saving the base.
“If I am elected as governor, one of my first trips will be back to the Pentagon to find out what the process is,” Cooke said, suggesting GOP Gov. Gary Herbert isn’t doing enough for HAFB.
“What I’m tired of in this state is no plans, no concepts, no ideas of where we’re going,” Cooke said.
Herbert’s campaign spokesman, Marty Carpenter said the governor “will continue to be a champion for HAFB and he is confident it will thrive based on its strategic military value and because of the hard working men and women on base — not because of politics.”
Carpenter called protecting the base a team effort that includes members of Utah’s congressional delegation as well as the Utah Defense Alliance, a non-profit group of business and political leaders formed to support the military and related industries.
Oklahoma County Commission Chairman Ray Vaughn said the 2008 bond issue that secured the plant now leased to Tinker AFB for $10 a year was intended to help bring in new jobs as well as protect the base.
Vaughn said about one-fourth of the nearly 4 million-square-foot facility remains unused and is being marketed to aerospace companies.
Cooke said the military’s long-term lease combined with the availability of additional space does not bode well for the future of Hill Air Force Base.
“You connect the dots,” he told reporters.
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