As I have written before, presidential races often turn on the unexpected. So much of what every campaign does every day is scripted and controlled by those running the campaign.
But major events happen that lift the facade of the stagecraft and remind voters of what is really important: what government does when lives hang in the balance, when communities need to be rebuilt and when our first responders are forced into action.
Tragedies and natural disasters are not planned or scripted and when they happen during a campaign you get a real sense of what each candidate would do in that circumstance and what their records are.
Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama has been an excellent steward of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was George W. Bush’s administration that proved inept at handling the effects of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Republican administrations historically have used FEMA as a place to dole out political jobs rather than a place for competent and experienced leadership. For example, W’s FEMA was run by a guy that put together election rallies for him.
On his watch, President Obama has seen an unprecedented off shore oil leak in the Gulf Coast, record droughts, hurricanes and massive tornado strikes like the one that devastated Joplin, Missouri.
It was in the aftermath of that tragedy that Romney was asked at a presidential debate whether FEMA should be shut down in light of the deficit. Republicans in Congress were, at the time, blocking federal disaster relief to those whose lives had been turned upside down.
Romney replied that FEMA should “absolutely” be shut down.
Romney continued, “every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”
He was asked specifically if that included disaster relief. He replied that it was “immoral” to provide such relief in the face of “larger debts”, emphasizing that “it makes no sense at all” to have such programs.
Romney also has a record on disaster relief. Most critically, as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a flood prevention project for Peabody, which had suffered major flooding in 2004 and required federal funds (requested by Romney).
Because of Romney’s penny wise, pound foolish attitude the same region flooded again in 2006, costing federal taxpayers again. When the Green River flooded communities in 2005, Romney did not lift a finger or show up as the Red Cross arrived to help the low-income residents whose housing was flooded.
This is why Mitt Romney will lose the state he once governed by 20 to 30 points.
He was incompetent as governor and did not learn a thing. He is as unconcerned about disaster relief as a Presidential candidate as he was as governor.
Today Romney was asked about his belief that we should “absolutely” shut down FEMA. Romney refused to answer.
But he cannot Etch-a-Sketch his way out of honestly talking about how he would handle disaster relief.
Republicans have long fought in Congress to limit FEMA’s budget and Romney’s budget calls for a two-thirds cut in discretionary spending. That leaves little money for FEMA or for disaster victims.
Romney considers helping American immoral, but cutting the taxes of the richest Americans on the backs of the middle class a good idea.
About Bill Buck
Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.