By Stephanie McCrummen
The Washington Post
GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The federal budget cuts were still an abstraction as American Eagle Flight 3429 crossed the snow-crusted plains into southwestern Kansas. Kevin Colvin, a construction manager flying in for work, looked out of the window at the tiny airport below.
“They make it sound like, ‘Oh my God! We’re going to die if we make these cuts!” he said, eating a potato chip, the cuts still two days away. “I think it’s a bunch of BS.”
The cuts came into clearer focus Thursday. Garden City Regional Airport would lose its air traffic controllers, saving the federal government $318,756 and leaving pilots to handle landings, takeoffs and weather conditions mostly by themselves.
“Oh,” said Dave Unruh, a retired farmer who heard the news as he waited for a flight to Dallas. “Is that part of the deal?”
By Friday, people in this solidly conservative area faced the reality that it was.
“Great!” said Terryl Spiker, a rancher and banker catching the 2 p.m. American Eagle out for the weekend. He crossed his arms over his flannel shirt and smiled. “Just cut a little more.”
As sequestration dawned, reactions in Kansas’ 1st Congressional District ranged from disbelief to concern to a kind of defiant joy that the $85 billion in mandatory spending cuts had arrived at last. In the 2012 House elections, voters here overwhelmingly backed tea party conservative Tim Huelskamp, who recently hailed sequestration as “the first significant tea party victory” in Washington.
Not everyone here sees it that way. Mayor David Crase and airport director Rachelle Powell spent last week writing letters to Huelskamp and other elected officials urging them to save Garden City’s tower, one of 238 across the country set to close beginning April 1. Crase said the closure would “undo years of investments” at the local, state and federal level. Powell warned of a decline in flights and associated revenue from fuel or fees or dinners at the popular restaurant Napoli’s at the Flight Deck. Though it was too soon to know, she worried that American Eagle might curtail the only regional jet service in and out of southwestern Kansas — a constellation of gridded towns that dissolve into farm fields and ranches and some of the largest meatpacking plants in the world.