The Republicans are quite conflicted over whether they want to court the Latino vote, in California and beyond. Do they want to bang on the immigration drum to rally the (occasionally racist) base, or do they want to try to pick up votes in some districts that are fast becoming unwinnable without Latino votes?
But, while offering up fake solutions to very real problems won’t do it in the long-term, it might carry some very real short-term electoral benefit.
GOP leaders have put water atop their agenda for next year’s statewide campaigns. They are expanding voter-registration efforts in the drought-stricken Central Valley, where unemployment is high and food banks are busy, and encouraging candidates to reach out to Latino voters hit hard by the recession.
The strategy was distilled on a 5-foot-high banner at the Republican voter registration table in front of a Walmart store in Dinuba (Tulare County) in August: “Stop the radical environmentalists. Save your water. Save your jobs. Vote Republican.”
“When I saw the (registration) numbers from that weekend, I fell off my chair,” said Johnny Amaral, chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Alpaugh (Tulare County). “I’ve never seen something work like this.”(SF Chronicle 10/19/2009)
Water has now become a pocketbook issue to many Californians, and it shouldn’t surprise anybody to find that pocketbooks take precedence over environmental issues. As the Clinton 1992 campaign often stated, it’s the economy, stupid. And right now, water is at the heart of the questions surrounding the Central Valley’s economy.
Now, to the cynicism. The proposed water “solutions” being offered up by the Republicans in the state bring neither water nor solutions. They don’t bring additional water to the table. Not one more drop of rain will fall simply because we have additional storage capacity and a brand new shiny dam. These “solutions” are temporary and ignore the realities of the effects of climate change. So, if by solutions, you are only looking at electoral prospects, then maybe. if you are actually concerned about the future of the Central Valley, these are as far from solutions as San Francisco is from Bakersfield.
Yet for some reason, we continue to push for expensive construction while ignoring many far more cost effective options. We continue to grow crops that don’t belong in the region and take far too much water to grow here. For example, it takes roughly twice the amount of water to grow cotton as compared to say soybeans, according to the cotton industry’s own numbers. Instead of actually trying to build solutions to make Central Valley farming sustainable, the Republicans are simply exploiting the region by pandering, rather than challenging them to build towards the future.
In many ways, the issue now presents one similar to that presented by gun control twenty years ago. Then, we lost control of an issue, ceeded the constitutional high ground and let the right-wing jurisprudence and activism carry the day. It still carries the day. The difference is that we cannot simply give up on environmentalism nor the Central Valley.
But the Republicans will continue to astroturf and play on the fears of the Central Valley. Whether this is enough to overcome all the race-baiting going on in the right-wing is still an open question.