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House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races
The head of the House Armed Services Committee is accusing Air Force leadership of trumpeting the placement of a new aircraft operating base in Georgia in order to influence the state's crucial Senate runoff races.
The service on Tuesday announced four locations to place Air National Guard C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft, with the Georgia Air National Guard Base in Savannah selected as one of the sites.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the timing of the announcement "raises serious concerns" and "could mar the service's historically repeatable, transparent, and deliberate strategic basing process, which until now has helped insulate basing decisions from political influence."
He asserted in a statement that the move to include Georgia as a location "inherently politicizes the announcement amidst the ongoing Senate runoffs in the state."
The Air Force said that Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas will begin receiving eight aircraft each in 2021, while Georgia will receive new aircraft "if they become available in the future."
"The Air Force currently has 24 C-130Js requiring a basing decision for three locations. However, since the Air Force is aware the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill include additional C-130Js, the Air Force can leverage the exhaustive work already accomplished on the current C-130J basing process for a fourth location, Savannah Air National Guard Base," it said in a statement.
The service said it decided to name Georgia as an alternative now in order to move forward with the environmental impact process.
The service in June briefed Congress on three sites to be selected for the new operating bases, none of which were in Georgia, though Savannah was included in the original eight installations considered.
The installations will eventually be home to a combined 24 aircraft, replacing older C-130H aircraft.
Smith on Tuesday accused the Air Force of deviating from its plan in announcing the Georgia operating base.
"The Air Force has traditionally avoided making basing announcements near an election so as not to be accused of playing politics with force structure decisions. In this instance, the timing and decision to include Savannah, GA in the announcement, when Georgia is focused on Senate runoff elections, raises questions about the Secretary's motives," Smith said.
Sen. David Perdue, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the incumbent GOP senators running in the January runoffs, lauded the Air Force's decision earlier Tuesday.
Perdue said the new aircraft "will equip our Georgia Air National Guard with state-of-the-art technology as they support America's global security interests."
The senator had also signed on to a letter sent to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett in May, encouraging the service head to consider Savannah as home to a new fleet of C-130Js.
Both of Georgia's Senate races were forced into runoffs after none of the candidates clinched 50 percent of the vote in the general election. The two Senate contests will determine control over the upper chamber. Democrats would have to win both to take the majority.
Smith maintained Tuesday that Congress "has not even decided whether to fund the additional aircraft that would justify a fourth site," and that the Air Force should delay moving forward with the basing actions "until conference negotiations have concluded and the decision is not at risk of being politicized."
--Updated at 11:46 a.m.