Monday, February 20, 2017

Oroville dam episode exposes rural-urban conservative-liberal divide in California

Residents of Oroville, Calif., say the near-failure of the nation's tallest dam near their town is an example of how little their state cares about its rural residents, compared to liberals who live in coastal cities and surburbs, Trevor Hughes reports for USA Today. "The liberal, more populated parts of California suck up all the political attention and public dollars, leaving little for the men and women who help grow the nation’s food, fruits and nuts. That dichotomy has bred a mistrust of state government and a healthy skepticism of federal officials, Trump excepted," Hughes writes.

And the bigger question, Oroville residents tell Hughes, is how did state and federal officials seemingly not have the money "to properly fix the dam’s problems when they were first identified, but have seemingly untold millions available when the crisis finally arrived? . . . Statewide, Hillary Clinton clobbered Trump, winning 61 percent of the popular vote and 4.2 million more votes than Trump. On one hand, this is a state that utterly rejected Trump. On the other hand, because California is so big, there’s wide variation in political affiliations," Hughes writes.

Butte County, which includes Oroville, went to Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. Its downstream neighbor, Yuba County, reflected a more rural barometer, favoring Trump at nearly 58 percent, Hughes writes. "Here in inland California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s name evokes disgust, and President Donald Trump is seen as the one who really cares. Here, residents distrust a state government they think is all-too-eager to help undocumented immigrants and build a bullet train to serve the rich coastal elites, leaving them with little."

Brown is seen as "the bad guy" for picking fights with the president over immigration, though Trump has said that California is "out of control," suggesting that he might withhold federal funds Hughes writes.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea ordered the evacuation and then spent days defending it against critics on both sides of the aisle, Hughes writes. “We have this longstanding history in our country, based on the idea that people control the government, not the other way around,” Honea said.

State and federal emergency-management agencies waded into the political tension, too, Hughes writes. Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA under President Obama, told Hughes: “Basically, they’re like don’t mess with us. We don’t need you . . . until we need you . . . You have to understand that level of mistrust. It’s not personal.”

"Fugate said the political dynamic in California mirrors that of many states, from his native Florida to the urban-rural divide of Washington state. The Oroville Dam’s potential failure could have been the first major test of the relationship between Trump and outspoken critic Brown, who after opposing the president asked him to declare a disaster in Oroville," Hughes writes. (Read more)

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