Shock and disappointment swept through the small desert communities of California's Antelope Valley following President Carter's announcement yesterday halting production of the controversial B-1 bomber.
Some 3,500 jobs in the barren 3,000 square mile valley are tied to the B-1 project and the loss of those jobs has incited anger towards Carter.
"It's like the death of a good friend," said Jay Lewis, a businessman from Palmdale, the town of 12,000, located 70 miles east of Los Angeles, that is the heart of the valley. "That's all anyone is talking about here today - that the damn man said no."
The Antelope Valley hosts Rockwell International's plant for the assembly of the proposed 244-plane B-1 fleet. The project has been seen there as a stabilizing influence in an area where the recent recession in the aerospace industry has produced an unemployment rate of over 9 per cent.
Among the many disappointed people in the valley yesterday is Darleen Peterson, an aerospace worker who was laid off in 1973 and is still unemployed. To her, the B-1 program was her best hope for finding a good, steady job.
"The B-1 would have dug us out of the grave we've been in for the last few years," Peterson said.
Peterson and many others in the Antelope Valley cannot be convinced that Carter's opposition to B-1 wasn't motivated by a desire to avenge Southern California's strong pro-Ford vote in last year's presidential election.
"The feeling here is that if the B-1 was being built in Georgia, it would go," she said.
Officials and representatives from the Antelope Valley and other California districts affected by Carter's decision against the B-1's production, however, have not yet given up on the controversial bomber.They are pledging to continue the fight in the Congress and work to override any possible presidential veto of a pro-B-1 production bill, if one is passed.
"It bugs me that he had a mandate from Congress to do it but he cut the bomber off anyway," said Chris Rope, City Manager of Palmdale. "We'll do our damndest to override him now."
Rep. William M Ketchum, a Republican who represents the Antelope Valley, said that his office has been flooded with telegrams and phone calls from angry constituents.
"The phone's been ringing off the hook but what can I tell them? Well I tell them this - that the fight is not over yet," Ketchum said.
Another California congressman whose district is deeply affected by the fate of B-1. Republican Robert K. Dornan, said he would join Ketchum in trying to keep the B-1 alive. Dornan's district, which hugs the western edge of Los Angeles County, has the largest chunk of California's 13,000 B-1 jobs.
Both Dornan and Ketchum insist that their support for B-1 is more a product of defense needs than the possible economic fallout in their districts resulting from the termination of production on the bomber.
"This is a defense disaster for the country as well as an economic disaster for my district," Dornan, a one-time Air Force fighter pilot, said. "They're probably breaking out the vodka and caviar at the Kremlin tonight."
Rockwell's B-1 division president Bastian Hello, meanwhile, held a press conference in Downey, Calif., to say he was "disappointed" in Carter's decision. He said, however, that "we do not intend to challenge the President's decision at all."
"Those people are paid to make those decisions," Hello said.