Missing John Warner

Published 8:35 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Obama administration’s ill-conceived plan to shut down the Joint Forces Command, a move that would eliminate 6,000 jobs in North Suffolk and Norfolk, should be a wakeup call for a region that has long depended on the military as an economic engine.

For decades, Virginians benefited from the political clout of U.S. Sen. John Warner, a hawkish conservative who became the Senate’s foremost authority on defense issues and who had Virginia’s and Hampton Roads’ back throughout the D.C. halls of power. When Warner spoke, other leaders listened — whether in Congress, the White House or the Pentagon.

Even when base-closure commissions would occasionally target Naval Air Station Oceana and other installations, regional leaders knew deep down that, in the end, Sen. Warner wouldn’t let a closure happen on his watch.

Were Warner still in office, it’s unlikely that the proposed elimination of JFCOM would have ever made it this far.

But Warner’s gone, and the likely loss of JFCOM reminds us of the tenuous nature of the large military footprint in Hampton Roads. First-term U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner are competent lawmakers, but they are a long way from building the seniority and respect that John Warner amassed during his career in Washington. Veteran U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes and Bobby Scott serve in an institution — the House of Representatives — that is less influential on matters of national security.

We’re not ready to give up the fight for JFCOM. We commend our congressional leadership’s swift, bipartisan condemnation of the Pentagon’s decision and wish them success in their bid for a reversal.

Regardless of the JFCOM outcome, though, let us must be mindful as a region that military jobs can no longer be taken for granted.