Election results show influence of rural voters

Issue Date: November 12, 2014
By Dave Kranz

Farmers, ranchers and other rural voters exerted their political influence during a midterm election that saw California voters pass a long-awaited water bond measure and dilute the majority party's power in the state Legislature, while voters across the nation created a new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

"We said beforehand that rural voters had the chance to affect the outcome of elections across the state, and we think the results reflect the priorities of farmers and ranchers," California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said.

Wenger pointed in particular to passage of the water bond, Proposition 1 on the statewide ballot, saying the measure's success confirms that Californians are ready and willing to invest in water projects for their future needs. The bond will invest $7.5 billion in storage and other water projects.

"It's extremely gratifying to see the bond pass," Wenger said. "At a time of extreme drought, Californians came together to support investment in our water system, which has suffered from neglect through 30 years of population growth and redirected priorities."

Passage of the bond, Wenger said, marked the end of years of work and negotiation, "and marks the start of more years of work and negotiation, to make sure we fulfill the directive voters have made to invest in California's future."

New water storage projects that will be partially funded by the bond, he said, will help California withstand future droughts, reduce the threat of flooding in wet years and provide needed flexibility in managing the current water system.

"Farm Bureau will be diligent in making sure the water storage money in the bond goes toward projects that provide the most benefit in enhancing both aboveground and underground water supplies," Wenger said, adding that Farm Bureau looks forward to working with Gov. Brown and the Legislature "to turn the promise of Proposition 1 into the reality of an improved water system" that helps meet the long-term needs of cities, farms and the environment.

"The bipartisan action by the Legislature to put the bond on the ballot and the directive from voters in passing Proposition 1 should be a clear signal to Congress that it needs to move quickly to address federal impediments to better management of our vital water resources," he said.

The state Legislature will have a different composition in the coming term, as Republican gains in legislative races assured that neither the Senate nor Assembly will feature a two-thirds "supermajority" of Democrats, which would have allowed them to raise taxes, override gubernatorial vetoes or take other actions without needing support from legislative Republicans.

"With the gains by the minority party and the election of a number of moderate Democrats in both houses, the demographics of the Legislature certainly changed, and that should affect the outcomes on a number of key issues of concern to agriculture," CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said, adding that farmers and ranchers will need to remain engaged during the next legislative cycle.

With new, longer term limits taking effect, Matteis said, "it was essential to have an impact this year, and Farm Bureau played a role in a number of key races."

During last week's election, all four candidates endorsed by the CFBF Board of Directors won their races: Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, for the state Board of Equalization; James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, in the 3rd Assembly District; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, in the 9th Assembly District; and Brian Pacheco in District 1 on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

"Because of the state's open primary system, several legislative races in the general election featured two candidates of the same political party, and FARM PAC concentrated its resources on helping business-friendly candidates win office," CFBF Political Affairs Director Casey Gudel said.

"The addition of moderate Democrats to the Assembly in 2012 proved beneficial to the business community," she said, "and we look forward to that caucus growing with wins by several moderates last week."

In Washington, D.C., Republicans became the majority party in the Senate and solidified their majority in the House of Representatives. With Republicans firmly in control of both houses of Congress beginning next year, farmers and ranchers could see an easing of Obama administration initiatives that have caused them concern, according to CFBF Federal Policy Division Manager Rayne Thompson.

"The biggest immediate change could be to proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency," Thompson said, particularly a controversial proposal that would extend EPA jurisdiction over "waters of the United States." Farmers and ranchers have protested the proposed rule, which would expand federal authority over small streams, ditches, floodplains and other areas where water may flow.

Thompson said a Republican-led Congress could thwart the proposed rule change by eliminating the funding needed to implement and enforce the rule.

Tax reform will likely be "a big priority" for the new Congress, Thompson said, though immigration reform may not move much higher on the agenda than it is now.

California farmers have been encouraging Congress to act on legislation to address drought-related water shortages. Negotiations on drought legislation have continued among House and Senate leaders since each house of Congress passed separate bills in the spring.

Thompson said Farm Bureau will encourage congressional leaders to finalize the California drought legislation during an upcoming "lame duck" session.

"Addressing the drought is an urgent matter," she said. "We don't want Congress to put this off until next year."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.