Colorado loses out to Alabama for Space Command HQ; Polis says ‘politically motivated’

Alabama’s 6 Republican House members voted to object to Electoral College results

Capt. Ryan Vickers stands for a photo to display his new service tapes after taking his oath of office to transfer from the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. Space Force on Sept. 1, 2020, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (Staff Sgt. Kayla White/U.S. Air Force photo)

The U.S. Air Force has selected Huntsville, Ala., as the permanent headquarters for the U.S. Space Command, passing over the command’s existing base in Colorado Springs, the Air Force said Wednesday.

Gov. Jared Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, both Democrats, raised concerns that President Donald Trump overruled military decision-makers and made the decision to reward political allies in Alabama. Space Command now is at Peterson Air Force Base.

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“Reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the President only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons are deeply concerning,” they said in a joint statement.

Alabama’s six Republican U.S. House members voted last week to object to certifying the Electoral College results. Republican Tommy Tuberville also beat incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, in the state’s Senate election in November.

But in Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Colorado voted for Trump’s challenger, President-elect Joe Biden.

John Hickenlooper defeats Cory Gardner in landslide for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat

Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican who represents the Colorado Springs area, wrote a letter to President-elect Joe Biden asking him to reverse the decision. Lamborn said the decision amounted to arbitrarily shuffling SPACECOM around like a “political trophy.”

“This last-minute decision, based entirely on political expediency, will devastate our space capabilities,” he wrote. 

Lamborn has been among Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress. He was among the House Republicans who on Jan. 6 voted, hours after the insurrection, to object to Electoral College results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, states Biden won. He also joined the lawsuit brought by Texas at the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to eliminate election results in four battleground states that voted for Biden.

“I call on you to use your authority immediately upon taking office as our nation’s commander-in-chief to reverse this foolish and hastily made decision,” Lamborn wrote in his letter to Biden.

Colorado’s U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, released a joint statement on the Air Force announcement.

“We are deeply disappointed the Trump Administration is trying to move Space Command from Colorado to Alabama,” they said. “We are concerned by rumors that the Trump White House influenced this decision for political reasons.” The senators added, “We will work closely with the Colorado delegation to ensure the Biden Administration reviews this purported decision. We believe a process based on the merits will keep Space Command in Colorado.”

Peterson Air Force Base housed a previous version of Space Command from 1985 to 2002. The Air Force has overseen military space operations from the site since.

The Air Force began a selection process for a permanent home for the Space Command, a combatant command overseeing the new Space Force military branch, last year, and selected Peterson as one of six finalists in November.

The others, besides Huntsville, were Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Fla.; Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.; Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb.; and Joint Base San Antonio in Texas.

The Air Force said it selected Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal because of its ability to support the command’s mission, its infrastructure and the cost to the Department of Defense.

“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs,” the Air Force release said.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. (af.mil)

The Air Force says Huntsville is the “preferred site” for Space Command but not final until a favorable environmental impact analysis is complete. The analysis is estimated to be completed in spring 2023. Asked about a report that Trump overruled Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett for political reasons, Air Force spokeswoman Sarah Fiocco said, “That doesn’t seem like an accurate depiction of what happened” and that Barrett made the decision.

The siting decision will likely have major economic impacts on both the Huntsville and Colorado Springs areas.

Peterson drives billions of dollars in economic activity in the area. The defense industry accounts for 1 in 12 jobs in Colorado, with about half of those concentrated in El Paso County, which is home to Peterson, according to a state report in 2018.

The Department of Defense spent more than $2.1 billion on contracts in El Paso County in 2016 alone. Defense jobs and veterans account for 40% of El Paso County’s economy.

Peterson will remain the provisional headquarters until the permanent site “is ready to support the mission,” the Air Force release said.

Colorado Newsline staff contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:28 p.m., Jan. 13, 2021, to include statements from Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. It previously had been updated to include statements from Rep. Doug Lamborn.

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