CHARLESTON, S.C. -- South Carolina's congressional delegation, concerned about how shrinking defense budgets are affecting the state, is jockeying for more political influence on military affairs in the next Congress.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., announced his intention to take over the position of Sen. John Warner, R-Va., as the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
With Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., holding the top minority position on the House Armed Services Committee, the South Carolinians will hold the top minority congressional military positions.
Charleston's Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr., R-S.C., also is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who holds another key military position on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said: 'We've been fighting hard to see to it that South Carolina is treated fairly as our defense needs change, and Strom's decision will ensure we win the fight.'
Thurmond, first elected to the Senate in 1954, said he is taking the position to ensure 'we maintain a strong defense and provide for the welfare of the men and women who serve our nation so well.'
'Too many times in the past we have cut our military budget to the bone and bitterly regretted it later,' Thurmond said. 'One of the challenges I foresee is maintaining a strong defense industrial base.'
Thurmond predicted that he will minimize any future defense spending cuts on South Carolina. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is Thurmond's neighbor, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
In the past year, South Carolina has suffered severe military cutbacks including the closure of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, reduction in force of 2,900 civilian personnel at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, and the relocation of several destroyers, the Fleet Mine Warfare Headquarters, and a submarine tender.
The Navy also has confirmed it is considering plans to accelerate the mothballing of eleven Poseidon nuclear submarines whose homeport is the Charleston Naval Weapons Station. This would result in the loss of 3,000 more military families and 600 civilian positions.
The cutbacks have resulted in demonstrations at the State House in Columbia, and complaints by shipyard workers that their congressional delegation had not been doing enough to protect their jobs.