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‘Extremely dangerous’: Govs. Cox, Polis criticize ‘federalization’ of National Guard

By Kyle Dunphey - Utah News Dispatch | May 7, 2024

Photo supplied, Utah Governor’s Office

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, right, speak during an event at Colorado State University on Nov. 16, 2023.

Governors from around the country are united in opposition to a proposal from the U.S. Department of Defense that would transfer certain National Guard units away from state control and move them under the Air Force.

It’s what Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, call an “extremely dangerous” precedent. During a joint news conference on Monday, both governors told reporters it breaks a century-old system of gubernatorial authority, violates trust between National Guard members and the government, and could impact military readiness.

“We urge the Air Force to work with governors to find a better way forward,” Cox said.

Cox is currently the chairman of the National Governors Association — Polis is the vice-chair. The group last week mobilized governors from 53 U.S. states and territories to sign a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, arguing the move “undermines over 100 years of precedent as well as national security.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are the only governors that didn’t sign the letter, although both have publicly criticized the plan. Cox joked the proposal “was helping the United States be bipartisan again.”

In response to an interview request, a spokesperson for the Utah National Guard said the organization shares the concerns expressed in the governor’s letter and is closely following the issue.

The Department of Defence submitted the plan, officially titled Legislative Proposal 480, in March to the Senate Armed Services Committee. It would move all Air National Guardsman with space-related missions from state to federal control, placing them under the umbrella of the U.S. Air Force, specifically the Space Force.

Seven states currently have such units — Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Ohio. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Congress earlier this year it would move about 700 guardsmen to new roles within the Space Force.

Kendall called it a “unique situation,” and there were no plans to further federalize the National Guard. But both Cox and Polis pushed back, calling it a dangerous precedent to set and warning that it could impact military readiness.

“To say that only seven (states) that have active space guards are affected is simply not correct and understates this,” Polis said. “This is a major federalisation of the State National Guard and a change in the military force structure with implications for all of the states.”

Cox said if the number of guardsmen impacted is actually negligible like Kendall suggested, “then they should have no problem dropping it and working with governors to find a better way forward.”

“The airmen in these units signed up to be in the guard, and forcing them to move really violates the trust between our guard members and the Air Force,” Cox added.

The governors said the law runs afoul of Title 10 and Title 32, which grant governors authority over the state’s National Guard. According to the National Governors Association, the law “states that there should be no removal or withdrawal of a unit of the Air National Guard without consultation and approval from governors.”

Cox said Kendall replied to the letter last week, but called his response “deeply disappointing.”

“It didn’t address the root of the concern that there has been no process to consult with the governors,” Cox said.

According to Polis, a majority of current Air National Guard space operators will not transfer to the U.S. Space Force, suggesting their positions would be dissolved.

“We estimate the risk of loss to upwards of 80% of personnel in a domain … that is incredibly important for our national security, and only becoming more so,” Polis said.

Polis said those units help with satellite-based operations to help battle wildfires or other natural disasters.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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