New gov­er­nor jabs Trump, asks for aid

FEMA fund­ing for Cal­i­for­nia put in jeop­ardy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som kicked off his first two days in of­fice by call­ing the White House in­com­pe­tent, de­cry­ing the pro­posed bor­der wall, vow­ing “sanc­tu­ary to all who seek it” and then ask­ing Pres­i­dent Trump to dou­ble spend­ing on wild­fire preven­tion.

That se­ries of events may or may not have spurred Mr. Trump’s threat Wed­nes­day to cut off Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency fund­ing for Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire re­lief, but it did set the tone for what could be a rocky re­la­tion­ship.

“I think at this point most Amer­i­cans un­der­stand how the pres­i­dent op­er­ates, and it’s en­tirely con­ceiv­able he’s hav­ing a knee-jerk re­ac­tion to what our new gov­er­nor said,” said long­time Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic strate­gist Darry Sragow.

“He has a habit of stick­ing his fin­ger in the eye of Cal­i­for­ni­ans, and he just did it again,” said Mr. Sragow, who runs the Cal­i­for­nia Tar­get Book.

Mr. Trump alarmed Cal­i­for­ni­ans by tweet­ing that he had or­dered FEMA to with­hold emer­gency re­lief fund­ing pre­sum­ably re­lated to the state’s dis­as­trous Novem­ber wild­fires, led by the Camp Fire, which de­stroyed the town of Par­adise.

“Bil­lions of dol­lars are sent to the State of Cal­i­for­nia for For­est fires that, with proper For­est Man­age­ment, would never hap­pen. Un­less they get their act to­gether, which is un­likely, I have or­dered FEMA to send no more money. It is a dis­grace­ful sit­u­a­tion in lives & money!” he tweeted.

House Repub­li­cans from Cal­i­for­nia re­sponded by agree­ing that for­est man­age­ment was a prob­lem in the reg­u­la­to­ry­heavy Golden State but promised to de­liver on disaster re­lief for wild­fire-rav­aged com­mu­ni­ties.

“Al­though I share the pres­i­dent’s great frus­tra­tion with Cal­i­for­nia’s choking regulations from the stran­gle­hold en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have on the state, as well as the in­ac­tion on fed­eral lands up un­til this ad­min­is­tra­tion, the im­me­di­ate prob­lem for fire vic­tims is the first need,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents Par­adise.

“Threats to FEMA (Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency) fund­ing are not help­ful and will not solve the longer-term for­est man­age­ment reg­u­la­tory prob­lems,” he said.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin Mc­Carthy, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, said he would of­fer an amend­ment to this week’s Demo­cratic spend­ing bills “to in­crease money for for­est man­age­ment that will help pre­vent and re­duce the dev­as­ta­tion from wild­fires that we saw a cou­ple of months ago.”

“The pres­i­dent’s mes­sage shows clear frus­tra­tion about an im­por­tant is­sue that has not been re­solved: how we deal with ad­dress­ing wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia go­ing for­ward so that more lives aren’t at risk,” said Mr. Mc­Carthy, who rep­re­sents a Cen­tral Val­ley dis­trict.

Cal Fire Lo­cal 2881 Pres­i­dent-elect Tim Ed­wards said, “Now is the time for us to work col­lab­o­ra­tively for so­lu­tions, not make un­fair, dan­ger­ous as­sess­ments.”

Whether Mr. Trump can legally with­draw FEMA fund­ing was un­clear. He has al­ready de­clared a na­tional emer­gency over the Camp Fire, which trig­gered a fed­eral re­lief re­sponse, al­though he could refuse fu­ture re­quests from the gov­er­nor for disaster dec­la­ra­tions.

FEMA re­sponded to re­quests for clar­i­fi­ca­tion with the state­ment, “Due to the fed­eral fund­ing hia­tus, we are not able to re­spond to gen­eral press queries.” The mes­sage added that FEMA’s ser­vice to pro­tect hu­man life and prop­erty were not af­fected by the par­tial govern­ment shut­down.

Democrats blasted the pres­i­dent’s tweet.

“Dis­as­ters and re­cov­ery are no time for pol­i­tics,” Mr. New­som told the pres­i­dent.

“I’m al­ready tak­ing ac­tion to mod­ern­ize and man­age our forests and emer­gency re­sponses,” Mr. New­som tweeted. “The peo­ple of CA — folks in Par­adise — should not be vic­tims to par­ti­san bick­er­ing.”

He pointed out that he and the Demo­cratic gov­er­nors of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton sent a let­ter Tues­day ask­ing Mr. Trump to in­crease twofold spend­ing on for­est man­age­ment and wild­fire preven­tion in their states’ fed­eral forests. They said those bud­gets have re­cently re­mained flat.

About one-third of Cal­i­for­nia is forested, and about 60 per­cent of those wood­lands fall un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion, prompt­ing de­bates over whether fed­eral or state man­age­ment poli­cies — or both — are to blame for the dis­as­trous wild­fires.

At a press con­fer­ence in Placer County, Mr. New­som de­scribed the let­ter as a re­quest that the pres­i­dent work with the gov­er­nors. “Rather than talk­ing past each other, talk­ing down to each other, maybe we can start part­ner­ing and do­ing the work that needs to be done to ad­dress our for­est health and man­age­ment.”

Mr. New­som’s tone was con­sid­er­ably less ge­nial dur­ing his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress Mon­day, when he po­si­tioned Cal­i­for­nia as a foil for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, blast­ing its “cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence” and be­moan­ing “a wall that should never be built.”

He also drew head­lines for propos­ing to in­crease health care cov­er­age for il­le­gal im­mi­grants by in­creas­ing the cut­off age from 19 to 26.

Mr. New­som’s pre­de­ces­sor was no Trump fan, but for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown praised the pres­i­dent for his disaster re­sponse. “He’s got our back,” Mr. Brown said, even though the two dis­agreed on whether over­grown, ill-man­aged forests or cli­mate change were more to blame for driv­ing the blazes.

Mr. Sragow chalked up the con­trast to the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and man­age­ment styles of the two Demo­cratic gov­er­nors. He said Mr. New­som “has been will­ing to be more vis­i­ble and more out­spo­ken.”

“I think they’re dif­fer­ent peo­ple. In gen­eral, Jerry Brown has been more likely to hold his fire, and I think that’s a func­tion of his per­son­al­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence in of­fice,” Mr. Sragow said. “And Gov. New­som may feel em­bold­ened be­cause of the Novem­ber elec­tion.”

Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans lost seven of their 14 House seats in Novem­ber elec­tions, and Mr. Trump’s threat could make their po­lit­i­cal prospects even worse.

Of course, the re­verse also ap­plies. Mr. Trump may feel he has lit­tle to lose by con­fronting Mr. New­som, given Repub­li­cans’ bleak prospects in Cal­i­for­nia.

“It would be per­fectly rea­son­able for our new gov­er­nor to feel he’s on very solid ground with his vot­ers in be­ing more open in op­pos­ing the pres­i­dent,” Mr. Sragow said.


Pres­i­dent Trump talks with then Gov.-elect Gavin New­som dur­ing a visit to an area im­pacted by the Camp wild­fire in Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia.

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