California · Politics · Wildfires

Calif. Democrats reject measures to bolster wildfire prevention, firefighting efforts

As firefighters from across California attempt to contain the state’s largest wildfire in its history near Lake Tahoe and fresh blazes threatening ancient Giant Sequoia trees near two National Parks in the southern Sierra Nevadas, hope for relief was decidedly extinguished on Capitol Hill.

Last week, members of the House Agriculture Committee took up amendments on the sweeping, Democratic-led $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill.

Three amendments to the bill from Northern California Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R–Richvale) sought to bolster the state’s wildfire response.

The first, which would send $5 billion to the U.S. Forest Service to fund wildfire prevention efforts in the west, was rejected by a narrow 27-24 vote in the House Agriculture Committee last week.

The second, which would send $500 million to aid restoration work in forests and communities consumed by wildfires, was rejected by a 27-23 vote in committee.

And the third sought to take funds dedicated for President Biden’s proposed “Civilian Climate Corps” and reallocate them for forest fire suppression efforts within lands belonging to the U.S. National Forest system. That measure was rejected by a 27-23 vote.

Californias Reps. Jim Costa (D–Fresno), Lou Correa (D–Anaheim), Josh Harder (D–Turlock), and Jimmy Panetta (D–Carmel Valley) stuck with the party line, joining fellow Democrats in rejecting the measures.

LaMalfa excoriated his colleagues for killing a package of targeted reform to address the west’s wildfire crisis.

“When will common sense prevail in Congress?” LaMalfa mused in a statement. “The West is on fire and the near 40-year lack of actual management has led to some of the largest fires on record. We must get serious about stopping these fires quickly before the fire receives a name and a subsequent collector t-shirt vendor.”

“Prioritizing initial attack by providing the resources needed, extra aircraft and more smokejumpers, to put these fires out before they become national news is the most basic solution to buy time to fix our forests,” he added. “This package handles both our immediate needs, increasing initial attack capabilities and helping to do post fire stabilization so we protect what is left of our forests and watershed. It also reforms the Forest Service to look at our long term needs of increasing responsible thinning to prevent catastrophic fires. To get our forest lands healthy we must actually do the work of thinning, which also has the benefit of bringing good jobs to our area and the forest products Americans need.”

Valley reps turn down broadband boost, farmer tax cut

The Ag Committee also took on efforts to include $24 billion in funding for broadband internet connections in rural communities by providing technical assistance for so-called “last mile” installation of broadband infrastructure along with boosting funds available for extending broadband lines.

Reps. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) and Josh Harder (D–Turlock), who lawmakers who represent deeply rural districts that would see a boost in internet service via the measure, voted against the spending allocation.

The pair also voted in support of a procedural vote that blocked consideration of an amendment that would prohibit the increasing of taxes on farmers who earn less than $400,000 annually.

Despite recall result, GOP sees ample opportunities as Latino voters cool on Dems

In recent weeks, the National Republican Congressional Committee has ramped up its efforts to capture growing discontent of Latino voters in California, highlighting misfires in Washington as a key catalyst.

Last week’s recall, though a blow to GOP hopes of ousting Gov. Gavin Newsom, suggested a softening among Latino voters with Democrats in the Golden State.

“Donald Trump got a historic number of Latino votes in 2020, and you can claim it was because of this or because of that, but it’s not like Larry Elder broke through for these folks. There is something else going on,” said Michael Trujillo, a Southern California Democratic strategist told NBC News last week.

GOP officials have shifted their attention to on-going budget fights in Washington to draw attention to failures on Democratic-led Capitol Hill.

Last week, they began airing new digital ads in targeted Congressional districts tying members to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco).

“We are sending doormats to these lawmakers to remind them they let Nancy Pelosi walk all over them,” NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R–Minn.) said of the current jockeying over the hefty spending bill.

“Voters will hold any Democrat who supports Nancy Pelosi’s reckless $3.5 trillion tax and spending spree accountable.”

Les Hubbard is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.