CA Senate OKs GOP drought declaration

CA Senate OKs GOP drought declaration


Cocos Fire 2014, Wikimedia“Fire, water and government know nothing of mercy,” runs an Albanian proverb.

So far in 2014, California has been wracked by merciless firestorms and severe drought even before the driest days of summer. And members of both political parties have not had merciful words for each other so far, blaming one another for the combined drought and man-made water shortage.

But the Democrat-controlled California Senate expressed some surprising mercy on May 19 when it unanimously approved a drought declaration by Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Fresno. SJR 25 calls on President Obama to “exercise his authority to find innovative ways to get desperately needed water to the Central Valley before the breadbasket of the nation dries up.”

Vidak: “Fish Versus Water”

Vidak, a cherry grower near Hanford, last year became the first Republican since 1993 to win back a Democratic Party-held seat in the state Senate. And it was the first time in 18 years that a Republican has held the seat for the 16th Senatorial District.

Vidak won a close special election against Democrat Leticia Perez after incumbent Democrat Michael Rubio resigned from office. The district is 60 percent Hispanic and Democrats hold a 22-point registration advantage. But the galvanizing issue that got Vidak elected was “fish versus water.”

Vidak’s win attracted Allysia Finley of the Wall Street Journal to herald a “hopeful” turnaround for the Republican Party in a May 24, 2013 article, “A Farmers’ Rebellion Lifts the California GOP.”

Then in January this year, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a call to create an Interagency Drought Task Force to control the releases of federal water to California.

Sensing “blood in the water,” Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner then visited Kern County to set forth a Republican strategy to alleviate the drought.

Boehner’s trip signified that the Republican-controlled House was not going to sit idly and let California Democrats singularly control federal water releases.

Unlike past droughts, California has a potential new mechanism to more flexibly manage drought.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed the Mendota Canal Intertie to the California Aqueduct in 2012.  Prior to that, the state California State Water Project and the Federal Central Valley Project had no way to cross-transfer water for the past 45 years.

Democrats have been playing catch up every since Vidak’s election. On Feb. 14, Obama and an entourage of high ranking Democrats choppered into California’s drought zone to announce a package of drought relief contained in the 2013 Farm Bill.  But the package promised no water.

Democrats Dig Hole in Water 

Then, on Feb. 28, Obama dug a political hole deeper for himself and the Democratic Party when he vowed to veto any Republican-backed drought relief bill in Congress.

The problem was one of political perception. Democratic-leaning farmworkers and voters in Central California knew the Republican-backed drought relief bill was full of policies that would develop new water resources and water storage for California.  They also knew the bill eventually died when it reached the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

And they knew U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s rival, Democratic drought relief bill, S. 2198, was “waterless.”

And Democrats had dug a hole for themselves as perceived water misers who were too inflexible to shift water from fish to farmers in a severe drought. This meant fewer farm jobs in the Central Valley — and jobs usually translate into votes.

Feinstein has been trying to get Obama and Democrats out of that hole by declaring, “Environmentalists have never been helpful to me in creating good water policy.”


But Republicans continue to push their leadership momentum. Although a minority in the state Senate, their SJR 25 drought declaration is crucial because no Democrat could have authored the declaration without serious repercussions from the powerful environmental lobby.

What happens now? SJR 25 has dumped the drought water issue back into the lap of Obama. So it’s his next move to see what mercy can be brought to drought-stricken California.

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