U.S. defense cuts that will slash about half of Ft. Knox’s combat brigades could be a top issue in Kentucky’s Second Congressional District race.
Last month it was reported the base will lose 3,300 troops in the so-called Duke Brigade over the next six years, which public officials worry could result in the loss of 10,000 jobs in the process.
In reaction to the news, Republican Congressman Brett Guthrie, whose district includes Ft. Knox, blamed President Obama‘s defense plan for the cuts.
In a June 25 e-mail, however, Army officials said the reduction forces reflects funding cuts based on the Budget Control Act, which Guthrie voted for two years ago.
“Congressman Guthrie did vote for the Budget Control Act because he believes we must get our nation’s spending problem under control,” says congressional spokeswoman Jennifer Sherman. “He has also voted several times to offset the military cuts and ensure our nation’s men and women in uniform have the tools they need to protect our country.”
At the time, many lawmakers supported the Budget Control Act to get beyond an impasse between Democrats and Republican over the debt ceiling. But after the so-called Super Committee failed many of those cuts are coming to fruition.
The congressman said the president’s unilateral decisions on where to place the cuts impacted not only soldiers in Kentucky, but families who live in surrounding communities.
Guthrie has pledged to work with Ft. Knox officials as cuts unfold to “ensure the facility maintains its prestige” while maintaining its role in training and serving the country’s security forces.
But Democrat Ron Leach, a retired U.S. Army major who is running for Guthrie’s seat, is tip-toeing towards connecting the cuts to his opponent.
“Rumors of our brigade leaving were already in circulation towards the end of our 2011 deployment. Yet our elected representatives in Washington seem to be completely caught off guard. They’re not engaged and they’re not aware,” he says.
“We cannot afford to haphazardly squander resources like this. We need to be smarter about how we draw down. We need to be smarter about how we spend initially. And we have to respect these communities that have put their faith and their money on the line.”
It’s unclear if the Ft. Knox cuts will become a big theme in the race, but it is clear the Leach campaign believes it represents a good entry point for a first-time Democratic challenger in a GOP leaning district.
“It’s a logical place for Leach to start because he’s from the area and he’s been in the military,” says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “But Guthrie’s been in the military and is a West Point graduate. So it’s two army guys running against each other. And the cause and effect relationship is not clear enough in my view. The better argument probably is these Republicans in Washington have gone too far and won’t compromise, which is a broader argument.”