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Crusader becomes issue in Minnesota Senate race
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
May 9, 2002


The possible loss of hundreds of defense industry jobs in Minnesota has become a political issue. The Bush administration has announced it's canceling development of the Crusader artillery system being designed in Minnesota. Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman is accusing incumbent Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of not doing enough to help save the Crusader and the Minnesota jobs associated with the program.

The Army fiercely opposed killing Crusader, a 40-ton, self-propelled 155mm howitzer designed to close what the Army calls a capabilities gap between its heavy artillery and that of China and North Korea. It is not yet in production, and the first Crusader systems would not be in the field until 2008. Many of Crusader's friends in Congress hail from states that stand to benefit from spending on the program.
(Photo courtesy of United Defense Industries)

Since the mid-1990s, United Defense Industries has been designing a next-generation artillery system for the Army called the Crusader.

United Defense spokesman Jeff Van Keuren says 800 people in Minnesota are currently working on the project and are on track to begin delivering the new artillery system in 2008.

Despite Secretary Rumsfeld's announcement that he's canceling the crusader, Van Keuren says United Defense is pressing on.

"Certainly we're concerned. However, Crusader has been embattled practically every year of its existence. Every year someone would try to raid to get the money that the Army had given to Crusader and so there is this sense of uneasiness, but we also know we've been through similar battles before," Van Keuren said.

And battle lines are already being drawn between Congress and the White House over the Crusader's future. Among those who've spoken out against the cancellation announcement is Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton.

Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman says his opponent, Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, should be loudly protesting as well.

"Mark Dayton has protested and said that he's going to do all that he can to try and save these 800 jobs. The senator has responded that he's inquired about this. For 10 of the first 11 years in the Senate he voted against every defense appropriation bill. My concern is, does he have a blind spot here against defense spending and is that impacting the way in which he's approaching the potential loss of these 800 jobs?" Coleman said.

Wellstone's spokeswoman, Allison Dobson, says Wellstone was surprised by Rumsfeld's announcement. She says the decision to cancel the crusader represents a major policy shift for the Bush administration, which, according to Dobson, had been lobbying hard for Crusader funding as recently as last month.

Dobson says Wellstone is very concerned about the potential job losses, but he will wait until he has more information about the defense secretary's decision before taking a position.

"We going about this in a very responsible, yet forceful, manner, contacting the Pentagon and the committee with jurisdiction over this to get to the bottom of the situation," she said.

The White House is strongly backing Coleman's campaign against Wellstone and Coleman says he has the ear of the president. So Wellstone staffers say Coleman should do what he can to persuade the White House not to cut the Crusader and the Minnesota jobs.

"It seems that Norm wasn't able to persuade the White House, which hand-picked him, not to cancel the program or even to have a normal open process to consider if on its merits," says Wellstone spokeswoman Allison Dobson.

Coleman says he has expressed concern about the Crusader decision to the White House, but notes he's not a senator and says there's little he can do because of that.

"I don't control the president and I don't control Donald Rumsfeld. In the end, you don't pull strings here. You don't have favors done. You do what Sen. Dayton is doing; you say, 'OK folks, one, we are deeply concerned about these jobs. We want to make sure, we want to make sure very clearly, we want to hear the rationale for killing a program that's been in development for six years.' That's what you do," Coleman said.

Wellstone's staff says it doesn't know when the senator will have enough information on the Crusader decision to take a position.

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