Why rural California votes red, and why we should listen

A tremendous amount of ink has been spilled about the recent American elections and the split between urban and rural areas. As tempting as it is to rant about everything the Democrats did wrong along the way, instead I want to talk a bit about why Californians voted the way they did and what that means for our future.  This is the first of several posts that will address that topic.

At the end of the day, two thirds of California’s voters checked the box for Clinton – some enthusiastically and some less so. Like previous elections, this one came down to urban vs rural. Rural Californians, rightly disgusted at the way they have been ignored and betrayed by Democrats in Sacramento and Washington DC both, overwhelmingly opted to come out and vote for someone who portrayed himself as an outsider who would listen to them. The fact that millions of people who knew their votes would make no difference came out to vote against the Democrat speaks volumes to the levels of dissatisfaction. We need to firmly denounce the condescending attitude that so many Democrats have towards rural voters and recognize that there are real issues here that need to be addressed.

So what are the issues? There are many, but in this installment we’ll touch on just a few.

We’ll start with logging and fishing vs. environmental concerns. While California has strict regulation on private lands, federally owned lands (with 20 million acres of National Forest the federal government is by far the biggest landowner) are managed according to federal standards. Up until 1990 that meant clearcutting and replacing forests with monoculture tree plantations that are particularly susceptible to wildfire and beetles, provide very limited habitat, and experience massive soil erosion while the newly planted trees are small. That eroded soil ends up in the rivers, destroying fisheries. This has been absolutely devastating to our fishing industry and destroyed the river ecosystems where salmon spawn.  Faced with collapsing fisheries and the inability of the State to regulate logging on federal land, Sacramento responded by shutting down much of the remaining fishing. Diverting water from the rivers to feed farms has been the final nail in the coffin for many river ecosystems and means that 27 years later most of our fisheries have never recovered – and neither has our fishing industry.

A competent government could have prevented this mess by adopting appropriate regulation up front. Turning over federal lands to California (as we call for in the CNP platform) and adopting sustainable logging practices would safeguard our forests and rivers while maintaining jobs over the long term. Instead, short-sighted officials in DC and Sacramento made a mess of things and left rural Californians holding the bag.

Now, let’s look at agriculture, or more specifically, the water our farmers require. For farmers, soaring water costs driven by protracted droughts have led to an almost annual debate over whether we should divert ever-growing amounts of water from the rivers. Doing so would be, at most, a temporary solution for our farms; but it’s hard to convince someone whose farm is teetering on the edge of solvency that fish are more important than their ability to feed their kids – even if the survival of those fish is critical to someone else’s ability to do the same.

“Opening up the water,” as Trump proposed in one of his campaign speeches, would only have a marginal impact on the water available to farmers and would guarantee that our fisheries never recover. There are so many other options. For instance, the CNP proposes interest-free loans for farmers who want to upgrade to drip irrigation and other technologies that could save billions of gallons of water – and billions in water costs – if adopted across California’s vast farmlands. There are many other potential solutions to add additional water supply as well, from atmospheric dehumidifiers to desalination to just plain fixing the corroded network of pipes that move water around the state and lose millions of gallons a year.

Rural California – and rural America – goes “red” because the Democrats have failed to speak for them or represent their interests and voting for Republicans is the only recourse available. That’s not a mistake the CNP intends to repeat!

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