Hurricane Sandy and FEMA Hit the Campaign Trail

The presidential candidates have sounded off about FEMA -- will independent voters be swayed by Sandy?

As mega-storm Sandy abates, the nation watches our presidential candidates' actions and listens for their messages. Will the Obama administration be able to help the East Coast recover? Will the responses to people's needs be swift and effective, perhaps in juxtaposition to the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina with President Bush?

Will the Mitt Romney stand by his words? In 2011 while campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination this was an exchange at the debate.


JOHN KING [CNN ANCHOR]: What else, Governor Romney? You've been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I've been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it's the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we're learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: 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 ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we're doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we're doing that we don't have to do? And those things we've got to stop doing, because we're borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we're taking in. We cannot...

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all.


Governor Romney seemed certain that FEMA should cease to exist and that disaster preparedness should go back to the states. Living in California, this may seem reasonable. When San Francisco was hit with a major earthquake in 1989, those of us in Southern California grumbled at the temporary rise in sales taxes to help right the area (and the books), but all in all we were able to absorb it. In a state like Utah, which spans almost 85,000 square miles, it's reasonable to expect that resources might be available from one end of the state to support another. What's odd is that a governor of a state as physically small as Massachusetts (just 10,555 square miles) wouldn't see the need to have federal support in the event of a national disaster.

Currently FEMA is in response mode. In an interview on the the Today show, Craig Fugate, director of FEMA, says the storm is "bad enough that based upon calls with governors both from New Jersey and New York, the President took the extraordinary step to further increase federal assistance by issuing major disaster declarations to improve assistance for those individuals heavily hit."

Voters, particularly undecided voters, will have the chance to watch how each party governs (or says they will govern) both during and after an emergency. The timing couldn't be better (or worse) for this particular election.

Folks who would like to see states handle their own emergency needs may lean toward a vote for Romney in these last critical days. Those who believe that the federal government should help when a state or group of states is ravaged by Mother Nature may lean toward a vote for Obama. In these last days before Election Day, will the actions of our presidential hopefuls become their campaigns? Will Sandy be the nail in the coffin for FEMA, with Americans seeing the lunacy of having western states taxed to pay for eastern disasters? Or perhaps Sandy will provide discussion about the import of FEMA and the need to save lives. The most likely scenario is a little of both.

Jessica Gottlieb is a blogger in Los Angeles. You can follow her on twitter @JessicaGottlieb.

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