The Rapid City Journal is running an AP story featuring Republican U.S. House Candidate Chris Lien crediting Senator John Thune with the greatest effort to get Ellsworth Air Force Base of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list in 2005.
"Without question, Senator Thune deserves the credit of being the one that took the lead," Lien said. "And you can ask Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin and Senator Johnson, but I would say they'd probably agree."
Lein was probably being gracious or naive when he said Herseth Sandlin would agree (I'd bank on the former), especially since Lein aims to unseat her from the U.S. House in November.
As if on queue, Russ Levsen, Deputy Chief of Staff for Herseth Sandlin, accused Lein of attempting to "rewrite history":
"It's surprising and unfortunate that anybody would try to rewrite history by injecting partisan politics into an effort that was successful largely because it was devoid of politics," Levsen said.
And, of course, the South Dakota Democrat Party mouthpiece, Badlands Blue, is parroting the charge.
While it's undoubtedly true that all three members of South Dakota's congressional delegation worked hard to get Ellsworth off the BRAC list, anyone who watched the process closely in 2005 will recall that it was Thune who led and who went to the greatest lengths to get the job done.
Saving Ellsworth would have been important to Thune under any circumstances. However, since Thune had recently unseated Democrat Senator Tom Daschle, the "loss of influence" in Daschle presumed by some was quickly labeled as the reason Ellsworth went on the closure list.
No one could prove or disprove such a contention (though it makes little sense, since Daschle had not been a member of the party administering the Defense Department), but the accusation was nevertheless quick to come and repeated often. If the closure had become a reality, right or wrong it would have been used as a massive club against Thune when he ran for re-election.
Thune introduced legislation in the Senate to delay BRAC indefinitely, he proposed legal action to halt the closure, he spent a tremendous amount of time talking to the BRAC commission, and he sought expert testimony like that of General Loh who helped convince the BRAC commission of the vital mission of Ellsworth.
When the base was removed from the list, Thune was very gracious and would accept no particular credit for the success; I doubt he would do so even now. And it was a team effort on the part of our congressional delegation.
But it's certainly not improper to credit Thune with taking leadership of the issue. Any objective analysis would reveal that as the truth. Any contention to the contrary might just be, well, some kind of revision...