By Peter Galuszka

You have to love the Richmond Times-Dispatch. They never miss an opportunity to showcase their beloved Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. As Hurricane Sandy approached, our intrepid governor was pictured everywhere: giving a statement about a state of emergency; looking very leader-like in a command center; appearing concerned as in this TD photo.

I have of course, been reading the Times-Disgrace for many years and once worked for them and have never gotten over their worship of a “governor” especially one from the G.O.P. This seems unique to Richmond. When I worked in other places, I knew who the mayors of Chicago, Cleveland and New York were but the governor just didn’t seem to matter. In Moscow, you sure as vodka knew who Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was, but as to who headed the Moscow oblast, “Kto znaet?

But there’s another reason for Governor worship. The TD is the mouthpiece of the Mainstream Republicans in Virginia and backs Mitt Romney, so they must be sending us subliminal messages that natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Sandy are better off being handled by state governments. Or maybe even better yet, they could be run privatize entities hired by state governments to make the budget look better. Now that’s a concept Baconauts everywhere can sink their teeth into.

However, it does have some problems.

The storm is a major event for New York City and other densely-packed Northeastern areas that could bring $45 billion in damages. Power for millions is shut off. The stock market has been closed. Subways are flooding.

This sounds like a job for Captain America or Superman. But Mitt Romney?

His campaign staff is quickly backing away from the idea he pushed in a 2011 debate that FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter to handle disasters at the federal level, should be chopped back and the money given to states. Here’s what he said back in 2011 asked about such a transfer:

“Absolutely. 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?”

Of course, As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney repeatedly asked for FEMA help for such problems as snow removal and so on. So we have Romney asking for FEMA’s help, trashing FEMA and now backing away from trashing FEMA.

Closer to home we have House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who wanted to deny FEMA assistance to people in Joplin, Mo., who suffered devastating tornadoes. The Young Gun’s idea was that before you send in federal bulldozers or bags of ice you have to decide first where to a cut a like amount from the federal government. Given Cantor’s masterful performance on setting the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011, we’d still be looking for cuts and the people of Joplin would still be looking for bags of ice or firewood.

Another issue that has come up: weather satellites. While it seems forecasters were correct in warning of Sandy’s potential wallop, NOAA, which collects weather intelligence, was hampered because we haven’t launched enough satellites to replace those now obsolete or fiery ash after falling in to the atmosphere after their tours were over.

I am sure that some Space Goo-Goos on this blog will find this one big intergalactic free market opportunity for Virginia’s nascent Space Port on the Eastern Shore, but it is hard to see how private enterprise would fund all of this.

As the New York Times says in an editorial this morning, where’s the logic in taking public functions from the cash-poor federal government and transferring them to equally cash-poor states? It’s a budget cutters’ sleight of hand. You’re not cutting, you are transferring.

Gov. Bob knows all about that. But hey, who cares? If he puts his Whiz Bang Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton in charge, we’d not only have safe residents during the storm but when the dust clears we’d have new highways and freshly-privatized port facilities, too. Magic.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. DJRippert Avatar

    FEMA has 7,474 employees and a budget of $5.8B. My understanding is that it funds cleanups and oversees emergency relief. However, it does not have a large employee base at the ready to sweep into a devastated area and perform relief.

    I think the question of state vs federal management of relief funds is legitimate. My neighbors on the Eastern Shore of Maryland tend to take care of themselves. When trees blow over into the road, people with pickup trucks and chain saws remove the tress so that the road is passable. In NoVa people wait for the government to show up and clear the road.

    In my part of Maryland, much of the electrical plant is buried. The ratepayers have been charged for this by the electric company. Therefore, electricity rarely goes out. In my part of Virginia, much of the electrical plant is aerial. The power often goes out during routine thunderstorms. The rate payers have, presumably, paid less since the outside plant has not been buried.

    I wonder whether the state is too high level an entity to properly manage disaster relief. Shouldn’t it be done on the regional / local level?

    As for Romney requesting FEMA funds for disaster relief – that is a red herring. Given that FEMA has the money what choice did he have? He doesn’t think FEMA should have the money. He thinks it should be allocated to and managed by the states. However, as governor, that was not the case.

  2. reed fawell Avatar
    reed fawell

    Oh, come on, Rippert! You know full well that there is not a single task too small for our Federal Government to intrude itself into, and to declare ZERO TOLERANCE FOR, and DECLARE WAR ON, by spending our money on, all of the good of us poor helpless citizens.

    And you know full well, too, that there is not one large single looming problem threatening our nation and its future generations, not one, not a single real problem, that our Federal Government will not run away from, while pointing fingers, blaming others for events they had nothing to do with.

  3. If the only way FEMA has money is by borrowing more with Treasury Notes – should Bob McDonnell and other “fiscally-conservative” Govs still be requesting FEMA money?

    Or should they stand on the principles for which they say they stand and refuse to be a party to the Fed increasing our debt?

    Bonus Question: Should we also get rid of the subsidized Federal Flood Insurance program?

    How many businesses and 2nd vacation homes would exist in Coastal Areas like Eastern Shore Maryland without Federal subsidized flood insurance ?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      LarryG – I don’t see it as a question of having the money. I see it as a question of who should administer the spending of the money.

      The money comes from all of us. And, in my opinion, we seem to have enough money for the various natural disasters that keep coming up.

      However, it’s a fair question whether the expenditure of that money is better done by federal, state or regional /local authorities.

      You know me … I like the regional / local guys best.

  4. re: “enough money”. According to Eric Cantor, we do not and we need to find offsetting savings to pay for disasters.

    the question is – are we spending money we set aside for disasters ahead of time or not?

    and if we have not – or not set aside “enough”, who should borrow the money?

    bonus question: if we set aside money for disasters by taxing each of us is that an insurance “mandate”?

  5. re: we all pay so should we pay to the Fed or State?

    is that the question here?

    Are we saying that we do not need a FEMA as long as we have our own State version of it?

    Should we do what Mitt Romney said ..originally before he changed his mind?

    Would Eric Cantor and Bob McDonnell agree with that idea?

  6. There are a couple of things going on here.

    One, all politicians engage in situational ethics. To the extent the federal government can help their constituents and more importantly their career, they’re all for the federal government. To the extent that it makes political hay, they hate the federal government. Hypocritical? Of course, and the better the hypocrite, the more successful the politician. Most of my examples are the Republicans (Romeny and Ryan come to mind immediately) but Democrats engage in it too. It’s as natural to a politician as taking a drink.

    Second, there are some emergencies, perhaps most of the emergencies in which the federal government is involved, in which the federal government is by far the more appropriate agent for relief. Katrina. FEMA and the clowns that Bush appointed to run FEMA totally blew it, but the state governments were totally out of action and incompetent to deal with an emergency of that magnitude, covering multiple states, the Gulf, the Mississippi, the National Guard, etc.

    We need a federal government to do things the states can’t or won’t do.

  7. ah… so political shenanigans aside – the answer is that we DO need a Fed FEMA because the States – like Virginia ….don’t let me put words in your mouth here – are too irresponsible or too incompetent to do the job themselves?

    Is that why Bob McDonnell keeps asking FEMA to shower Chinese loan money on Virginia every time we get “hit” with a disaster then during those times when we are not in a disaster scenario he hammers the Fed for spending money it don’t have?

    oops.. back to those feckless politicians again.. I see your point.

    but the bigger question remains – should disaster relief be a Federal function – all manners of politics aside?

    The Tea Party folks – and perhaps even Eric Cantor would tell you that there is no stinkin FEMA in the Constitution, right?

  8. The state governments are responsible for disaster relief. FEMA money is funneled through the governors office to manage. Only when state cspabilites are overwhelmed does FEMA step in directly.

    When disaster relief fails, FEMA gets the blame that should rightly fall on the governor.

  9. FEMA is not a huge agency. Their primary role is coordination. Coordination in a disaster… SUCCESSFUL coordination is a dicey proposition given the fact that each disaster is largely unique in many ways.

    The anti-govt types keep blathering on about state responsibilities and charities stepping in – as if States and charities (like Red Cross) are not already part of disaster relief.

    But you know things are getting bad when the basic concept that underlies FEMA becomes a political issue.

    It’s almost as if the concept of rainy day and insurance is a liberal/socialist plot.

Leave a Reply