HELENA, Mont. – Several governors are fuming over a Bush administration suggestion that the active military take a greater role in disaster response (search), calling it an attempt to usurp state authority over National Guard units.
Governors in Washington, Mississippi, Michigan, Arkansas, West Virginia, Delaware and Alabama are among those who have panned the idea, questioning whether it would even be constitutional.
"I'm going to stand up among a bunch of elected governors and say, 'Are we going to allow the military without a shot being fired to effectively do an end-run coup on civilian government? Are we going to allow that?'" Schweitzer said. "We're going to have a little civics lesson for some leaders who are apparently out of touch in the military."
President Bush first suggested in September that the active military ought to have a greater role in responding to disasters. He said the military's training, command structure and resources put it in a better position to lead recovery efforts. Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander at U.S. Northern Command, has endorsed the idea as well.
Some in Congress and the Pentagon have been lukewarm to the idea, and governors of both parties have said the administration would be overstepping if it follows through.
"It's a bad idea for the military to make that decision and usurp the authority that under the U.S. Constitution stays with the governor and local authorities," Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (search), a Republican, told The Associated Press last month.
Schweitzer said he became even more irate after seeing a copy of an e-mail circulating among National Guard (search) commanders this week that contends active duty military leaders are suggesting taking federal control even further.
The e-mail, written by Washington National Guard Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, contends that Keating has been telling military officers that National Guard officers are not capable of handling "command and control."
Lowenberg also wrote that active duty military leaders under Keating have talked about the idea of certifying the competence of governors to handle domestic emergencies.
"Some might liken this to a policy of domestic regime change," Lowenberg wrote.
Keating has said he spoke with Bush about training and equipping an active-duty military force to help the National Guard respond to disasters, but he has stressed it would be only to aid state leaders.
Northern Command spokesman Lt. Col. John Cornelio said military commanders are not trying to take authority from the governors. He said the idea that the command would certify governors is "ludicrous," and that it is "utter nonsense" to think NORTHCOM plans verge on regime change.