By Andrea McCann
Washington Times Herald
At an open forum Thursday, 8th District congressional candidates Dave Crooks (D-Washington) and Larry Bucshon (R-Newburgh) shared their thoughts on national security and the role Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane plays.
The forum, held at Westgate Academy, was sponsored by Westgate Academy and Crane Federal Credit Union. Craig Hartzer from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs was the moderator. Each candidate was allotted half an hour to speak and answer questions from the audience.
Incumbent Larry Bucshon began with a synopsis of some things he’s done, since taking office, to support Crane and ensure national security. He said he’s brought state and national political leaders to the base to familiarize them with it, and was instrumental in bringing Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence to Crane recently to impress upon him its importance to the region and the state.
“Not only is (Crane) integral to national defense, but it’s important to economic growth,” he said.
Opponent Dave Crooks also began by stressing the importance of, and his familiarity with, Crane. In Crooks’ younger years, he said, his father worked there. As a state representative from 1996 to 2008, Crooks himself testified to the significance of Crane at Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) hearings. He said it’s important to warfighters and for the research and development that takes place there.
A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Bucshon said he supported the construction of I-69 through the area and helped convince opponents in Monroe County to get on board with it. Both Bucshon and Crooks believe the easy access it will provide to Crane is critical.
“I don’t think I can express the importance of this highway,” Bucshon said. “I think further economic development around Crane will boom once people receive access with I-69.”
Crooks said when potential employers come to the area looking to locate a business and see there’s no north/south thoroughfare, the area doesn’t have a fighting chance of luring the company there.
“It’s not only about safe and reliable transportation,” he said. “It’s about jobs and the economy.”
The men also discussed controversial automatic spending cuts designed to balance the budget deficit. Currently, congressional leadership is struggling to agree on the cuts, and Bucshon hopes they’ll be able to work it out after “the political season.” He said he believes the national debt is the biggest threat to national security.
“Across the board cuts will be devastating to the Department of Defense,” Crooks said. “Some areas might be able to be reduced, but others may need to be increased.”
He added that keeping jobs in the U.S. not only will help U.S. citizens, but it keeps the nation strong through tax revenue, which helps pay for defense.
Forcing China to stop manipulating its currency, which is against international trade rules and creates a trade imbalance, also will decrease unemployment, Crooks said.
“I want to give whoever is president the authority to put tariffs on them,” he said, adding it not only saves jobs at home, it reduces unemployment and reliance on assistance programs.
In answer to questions about why the United States needs a strong military, why Crane is important to that effort, and what the short- and long-term security threats are, Bucshon said other countries will begin to think the U.S. won’t respond to aggression, so the U.S. needs to be able to assert itself and react.
“I think other countries believe U.S. foreign policy isn’t strong currently,” he said.
“Crane has been directly involved with helping our warfighters over there.”
He cited combat equipment made at the base as a key way. Bucshon said Congress cannot be short-sighted and allow cuts to the Department of Defense that might inhibit that work.
“Peace through strength will deter our enemies,” Crooks said.
“There are a couple hot spots now. It’s not acceptable to allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb. We should keep negotiating but also work with Israel to make sure it doesn’t happen.
“It doesn’t take much for some out-of-control person to wreck havoc on our citizens. It’s important to keep people prepared with the things Crane does. This base must stay active ... not only for economic reasons, but also because the things made here can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”
In the short term, Bucshon said, the way the U.S. projects itself on the foreign stage is not solid and even U.S. allies are questioning U.S. resolve. He expects continued threats to U.S. allies.
“In the long run, I do think we’re going to have to get hold of the budgetary process,” he said.
The congressman said the U.S. can’t afford to open itself to threats because it can’t afford to protect its citizens.
“I believe if we’re going to have a strong defense, we have to have energy independence,” Bucshon continued. “If not, it will become a security issue.”
He said he supports drilling for gas and oil on public land, and he said he believes that can be done while protecting the natural beauty of the areas for tourism.
Crooks also supports energy independence.
“I think we should do more of our own domestic oil exploration to reduce reliance on foreign oil,” he said.
Clean coal technology, nuclear energy and renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass alternatives also should be researched and considered, he said.
“I believe we can create jobs here in Indiana with the expansion of domestic energy,” Crooks said.
Probably nothing can make Crane “BRAC-proof,” according to both Crooks and Bucshon. The threat of Base Realignment And Closure makes it critical to continue to show state and national leaders the importance of the military installation, they said. Continuing economic development activities in the area, such as bringing I-69 through, also will help.
Both candidates said working with Crane and related industries to determine their workforce needs and communicating that to the state’s educational institutes will help ensure an appropriately educated workforce to keep Crane going. Along with that, they emphasized again the importance of developing the I-69 corridor. Crooks also said it’s important not to cut grant programs so potential students can get the education they desire.
On Iran’s efforts to make nuclear weapons, Bucshon said: “Sanctions are already in place, but they’re not making a difference. I think we need to make it clear we’ll use force if they get close to having a nuclear weapon.”
He said other countries are concerned, as well, but the Iranian government has not responded to negotiations.
Bucshon also said he believes U.S. citizens in unstable foreign countries should be protected by U.S. forces if that country cannot protect them. He said when security becomes an issue to U.S. citizens or allies, such as in the recent incident in Libya where a U.S. ambassador was killed, the U.S. needs to arm fighters in that country.
Both candidates said such the effect of such attacks reach even the 8th District because the oil industry is destabilized, for example, and there’s an economic impact at the gas pump. Exports can be affected, as well, and soldiers from this area might be called upon to fight.
National security is more than that, though, according to Crooks. He said it’s critical to support the Border Patrol and make sure they have the equipment they need, such as night vision goggles made at Crane. Cracking down on employers that hire illegal aliens also is crucial, he said.
“The key is to make sure everyone here is documented and we know who they are and where they are,” he explained.