Thursday, May 5, 2011
One potential Republican presidential candidate has figured out the only way that the GOP has a snowball's chance of winning in California in 2012. That person is Sarah Palin. The election will be won or lost in the Central/San Joaquin Valley, where a federal government-imposed artificial drought is killing California agriculture and putting thousands of out work while putting California's economy even deeper into the debt hole.
I've been writing about the destruction of the American cornucopia since long before I left San Francisco for that selfsame Central Valley. People who don't know California tend to think of its industrial and entertainment powerhouses without knowing that California
I first saw the sign in the picture accompanying this article as my son and I were driving the moving van from San Francisco to my new digs in Caliente (Kern County, Central Valley). It appears in duplicate form all along the inland route from Northern to Southern California. I drove that route many times over the years from my homes in Downey and Simi Valley to the Bay Area and my residences in Berkeley and San Francisco. I remembered miles and miles upon miles and miles of fertile green fields, farms, citrus groves, vineyards and domesticated animal herds. It was a genuine shock to see cracked earth and brown, untended fields devoid of life-giving water.
All of this green wealth was brought to the Central Valley by the California Water Project begun in the 1920's and continuing through the late 1990's. What was once a desert with fertile but dry soil became the wonder of the agricultural world. Most of the water came from the Delta region of Northern California through a massive system of dams, canals, pumps and pipes. There was (and is) enough water to provide the life-giving liquid to the entire state. That is until the federal Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the pumps endangered an already dying and worthless fish species--the Delta smelt. For the whole background on this fiasco, see The Fish That Conquered California.
Politicians and candidates of both parties come to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose/Silicon Valley and Sacramento to demagogue and raise funds. None of those cities are directly impacted by the avoidable drought in the Central Valley. In fact, if not properly dammed and diverted, parts of California would be drowning in water after this year's heaviest snow pack and rainfall in fifty years (global warming?). San Francisco Bay is being flushed out by millions of gallons of water from those wet conditions while the Central Valley remains cracked and dry.
Of all the candidates and potential candidates for the presidency, only one has done the right thing and visited the towns of the Central Valley. And she has done it twice. From Fresno to Bakersfield, the unemployment rate is two to four times that of the rest of the state, and bankruptcies and public assistance are nearly three times that of the other regions of California. Just ten years ago, the unemployment rate was half that of the rest of the state. The EPA killed oil production in the Central Valley decades ago (along with farming, it was the largest employer in the region). Now it has brought death and destruction to the agricultural industry.
God love Sarah Palin. Speaking this past Sunday at West Hills College in the small town of Lemoore (about ninety miles from my home in Caliente), Palin said: "A faceless government is taking away your lifeline, water, all because of a three-inch fish. Where I come from, a three-inch fish, we call that bait. There is no need to destroy people's lives over bait." Not exactly "fourscore and seven years ago," but it is more than adequate to sum up the situation.
This was a fund-raising event for the inauguration of the school's new Golden Eagle Arena. It raised about $115,000 net for the cause. But the implications of a nationally-known political personality speaking to a crowd comprised largely of California farmers and farm-workers cannot be overestimated. Independents and Democrats in the area who voted for Obama in 2008 are seriously reconsidering their votes. Republicans voted for McCain, but weren't at all enthusiastic about it. But still the Republicans won the majority of votes in the Central Valley districts. Palin is now energizing the Republicans while wooing the Independents and Democrats who are all suffering equally from the predations of the EPA.
Whether Palin will run or if her attention to the Central Valley will help her potential candidacy remains to be seen. But I will tell you from decades of involvement in California politics that one trip to the besieged Central Valley to talk about the crime against California's agricultural industry is worth more than a hundred visits to the big cities. You may raise more money in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but you'll raise far more votes by visiting Lemoore, Weed Patch, Tehachapi, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, and my nearby "metropolis," Bakersfield.
Any Republican candidate who is serious about winning in California (or at least adding substantially to his or her popular vote) had better learn from Sarah Palin and follow her lead. Even I might find it in my heart to leave my comfortable retirement, roll up my sleeves, and get back into the fight. The destruction of the lifeblood of the Central Valley by federal bureaucrats and green-weenie Democrats is the issue that trumps all others here. That issue affects millions of California voters.
Democrats constantly talk about "the forgotten man" by which they mean the welfare community, illegal immigrants, and workers now on the unemployment line largely because of Democratic profligacy. The true forgotten man lives right here in the Central Valley and is just waiting for a presidential candidate who remembers him.