- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

LAS VEGAS Colorado Gov. Bill Owens had just been elected vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association when he had to leave to deal with an apparent anthrax contamination in his state.
After quickly ordering two post offices closed, Mr. Owens made his unplanned departure Saturday morning and seemed to confirm what his colleagues already feared: No state is safe from terrorism.
Dealing with the threat is constantly on the minds of the governors, playing havoc with their state budgets and wearing down their state employees, they said.
Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist said that since Sept. 11 there have been 3,000 reports by citizens of suspected terrorism in his state. "Way too many of them are hoaxes," he said. "We've had anthrax scares in our state office buildings."
Checking out each report is hugely expensive, he said. His state is offering large rewards to deter false anthrax reports and is promising to prosecute pranksters to the fullest.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating put it in the starkest terms: "Homeland security is our most significant challenge. The war against terrorism at home will determine whether America will remain the strongest nation in the world."
Mr. Keating does not underestimate the size of the threat.
"The economy and homeland security are joined at hip," he said. "If as a result of terrorism, people stop buying, two-thirds of the economy collapses."
The September 11 attacks tipped a sluggish national economy into recession. The governors said their states are feeling the blow financially, and the cost of homeland defense is making it worse daily.
In Tennessee, Mr. Sundquist is expecting a state budget shortfall of up to $400 million because of the economic downturn and increased terror-related spending.
The Republican governors were united in wanting Congress to enact an airport security bill and a stimulus package quickly. But they also seemed united in opposing the federalization of airport security.
"I don't know of any other governor I talked to who thinks we ought to increase the federal bureaucracy to make [airport security workers] federal employees," Mr. Sundquist said.
Some expressed concern about using U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan but said they trusted President Bush to make the right decision.
"Yes, it gives me pause," said Montana Gov. Judy Martz, who was elected last year. "But I will trust the leadership we have. That's why he's called the president and I'm called the governor."
"Putting 100,000 troops in Afghanistan should give everyone pause," said Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. "I'm not second-guessing. I'm only saying it should not be done if they cannot define the exit strategy, so we don't get bogged down as Russia, our new ally, did most recently."
The governors defended Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who is also the Republican National Committee chairman. They agreed he should not be blamed for last week's gubernatorial election losses in Virginia and New Jersey.
"Candidates look to the RNC for financial help but have to run their own races, be creative in handling issues affecting their states," said Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. "The national party chairman recruits candidates but can't get them a grass-roots organization in their states or make them better candidates than they are."
The war against terrorism cast a shadow over the meeting. Even the perennial issue of unfunded federal mandates was expressed in the context of homeland defense. The governors said they worry that Washington won't provide money to finance any new terrorism-related responsibilities that it imposes on the states.
The governors are, however, taking their cues from Washington on security. Mr. Sundquist, for example, has appointed his own homeland security director. "We invite every mayor, county executive, police chief and sheriff to get on the phone with us and ask questions," he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide