Romney: Flood Victim Aid is "Immoral"
How Mitt Romney's mishandling of Massachusetts floods in
Greenfield, Lowell, Melrose and Peabody proves that he's full of bull and that
FEMA really is needed, after all ...
by Michael R. Burch
Those of us who lived through the Great Nashville Flood can certainly empathize
with the victims of the "Frankenstorm" that just hammered millions of Americans,
leaving many of them temporarily underwater, without electricity and faced with
massive cleanup projects.
One of my favorite political cartoons has a man clinging desperately to his car
in a raging flood. His bumper sticker reads GET BIG GOVERNMENT OFF MY BACK.
Overhead, a FEMA first-responder is being lowered from a helicopter to save him
I’m sure that many of my Nashville neighbors whose houses ended up underwater were happy
to see FEMA workers arrive, Johnny-on-the-spot, to help to start and coordinate
the recovery process. But it’s quite fashionable these days — especially since
the rise of the Tea Party — for politicians to complain bitterly about taxes and damn the
federal government for anything and everything that doesn’t work out perfectly.
If a dime gets wasted on green energy or disaster relief, it’s "obvious" to the
lunatic fringe that the federal government is the Devil, President Obama is the
Anti-Christ, and Mitt Romney is the Savior.
But is Romney the promised Messiah, really? He claims that anything the federal
government can do, the states can do better. That plays wonderfully
well with the "federal government is the Devil" crowd. But when a huge storm
strikes, isn't a centralized federal agency bound to outperform states
whose actions are uncoordinated, and probably unfunded? Can we really save money
and improve efficiency by duplicating FEMA fifty times? And just how good are
non-professionals at complex disaster relief, really, in the real world?
Ironically, when there was relatively minor flooding in Massachusetts, Governor
Romney didn’t come close to outperforming FEMA. Far from it.
According to Daily Kos, "Romney says he wants states to
handle emergency response. But when he had the chance to show how well that can
work, all he showed was failure and
In 2005, the Green
River flooded Greenfield, destroying a trailer park and low-income housing.
Roads were impassable. The water treatment plant was submerged. But
Greenfield's mayor, Christine Forgey, says that she never heard from Romney
despite her repeated calls for assistance. A
resident turned the town's high school into a crisis shelter. A radio station launched
a food and clothing drive. The Red Cross provided services. But Romney,
more Stuporman than Superman, was nowhere
to be found. New Hampshire’s Governor, John Lynch, called up the National Guard
and cut short his trip to Europe, but Romney couldn’t even be bothered to return
Forgery’s phone calls. Only after heavy criticism from the press did Romney
finally visit Greenfield. But Forgey says she never met Romney, because his
visit was unannounced. Would FEMA have made that mistake? Romney got lost,
according to John Barrett, who said Romney called him to say that he was in the
area when he was actually in the wrong county, an hour away. "I don't think he
understood that was part of the job ... dealing with catastrophic storms," said
Barrett, obviously not convinced that Romney can outperform FEMA's professionals.
A year later, floods hit Melrose, displacing 8,000 residents, including
hundreds of elderly tenants. According to mayor Rob Dolan, Senator Ted Kennedy,
a liberal Democrat, called almost immediately to offer support. FEMA representatives
arrived the next day. But even though Melrose was just minutes from Romney's
house and office, Romney was nowhere to be seen, nor did he ever call
Romney insists that states can handle floods better than the federal government, but in 2004 he vetoed
flood control for Peabody after a flood, then lied
about it. Peabody officials harshly criticized Romneyís decision to block $5.7
million to pay for a flood control project. The state funds would have been
quadrupled by $22 million in federal matching money, but Romney still nixed the
project. At a State House press conference, Romney said that he had tried to
contact Peabody officials to obtain more information about the funding, but was
unable to reach anyone. State Senator Frederick E. Berry responded: "We
hand-delivered all kinds of information. They had all the information they
needed Ö I donít want to use the word Ďlieí but Ö how he could say he didnít get
the information? Thatís not true."
At the time John Barrett was the mayor of North Adams and the vice president of
the Massachusetts Mayors Association. He said the issue of flooding in Peabody
was critical and that local officials had reached out to the legislature for
help. "Every time it rained, it wiped out their downtown," Barrett told
Huffington Post. Barrett ascribed Romney's veto of the Peabody project to a
lack of familiarity with state infrastructure. "This was not unusual for him. He
didnít understand infrastructure improvements. It was just the bottom line. He
never visited communities. He never understood the issues. He never sat down
with mayors or city managers. He never understood why those things were in the
budget," Barrett said. "That money was requested by locals. It was a major
During the Mother's Day floods of 2006, the problem was especially acute
along the Merrimack River and in the city of Lowell, where Romney's response was
considered, well, leaky. The right-leaning Lowell Sun was particularly
displeased: "We find it inconceivable that Gov. Mitt Romney claims the state can do nothing
to help those residents still struggling to rebuild homes and businesses after
the May flood. Massachusetts is sitting on millions in unspent emergency funds
from Hurricane Katrina and more than $1 billion in cash reserves, yet Romney has
failed to even respond to the Lowell delegation's requests to discuss additional
aid for victims. The governor's spokesman — since Romney can't be bothered to
comment now that the photo opportunities have dried up even though some
residents' basements haven't — said the state will not consider spending its own
money for flood victims until it's clear how much cash the federal government
In May 2006, Peabody flooded again, and local officials quickly blamed Romney,
slamming him for doing a photo-op tour of the disaster area. As the Associated
Press reported, Romney's critics saw political hype in the media blitz, such as
Romney claiming to prevent non-existent looting. "The first thing I
wouldn't do is showboat for the national cameras and say I was
going to prevent looting on the North Shore," Democratic candidate for governor
Chris Gabrieli said. Critics also faulted Romney's 2004 veto of a flood control
project for Peabody. Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Therese Murray said,
"Peabody today is under water" because of Romney's action.
Despite sitting on a billion in Katrina money and other cash
reserves, Romney declined to provide aid to the affected citizens until he
could see how much the feds would give. Then in the GOP primary debates he said
the feds should send FEMA responsibilities back to the states. This absurd
neither-nor policy was ratified by his campaign:
"Governor Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency
management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their
jurisdictions," said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman. "As the
first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals
and communities and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed
most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA."
But it makes absolutely no sense to put the primary
responsibility in the state's hands, if Governors like Mitt Romney are going to
sit on their hands until FEMA acts.
George Haddow, a private disaster relief consultant and former deputy chief
of staff at FEMA, said Romney’s vision for FEMA sounds like
that of former President George W. Bush, who was criticized for the government’s
slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "The problem is it doesnít reflect
the reality of major disasters," Haddow
"You need FEMA, and you need a large FEMA," added Thomas DeGregori, a
professor of economics at the University of Houston and an expert on disaster
relief. "FEMA can do things that no state or local government can do, and often
has experience and expertise that they donít have."
So Romney himself, through his incompetence and mismanagement of relatively
small floods, illustrates why we really do need FEMA, after all. But he and his
allies, including running mate Paul Ryan, still want to either get rid of the agency or slash its
Romney once called it "immoral" to borrow money to help flood
victims. However, Romney, a former Mormon Bishop and therefore someone who
should presumably understand the term, didn't call it "immoral" for the federal
government to borrow billions to bail out the Olympic games and his rich Wall
Street cronies. He obviously doesn't consider it "immoral" to borrow the better
part of $7 trillion to give more tax cuts to the wealthy and increase defense
spending for things the Pentagon hasn't even requested. According to Bishop
Romney, it seems the only people it's "immoral" to help are the 47% of Americans
who need help the most, including flood victims, first responders, Detroit auto workers,
veterans, the elderly, and girls who need Planned Parenthood’s help with
contraceptives and preventive healthcare.
The issue came up at a Union Hall in Canton, Ohio
where steelworker Leo Gerard slammed Romney’s comments to
cheering workers at the Golden Lodge: "Ask him to go down there this afternoon
and tell those people it’s 'immoral' to have the government come help you
when youíve lost your business, youíve lost your roads, youíve lost your
"Let them eat cake" seems to be
Romney’s personal philosophy, but if the past is prelude, it could be a very
soggy meal. And now Romney has suddenly gone mum, refusing to respond to
reporter questions about FEMA at least 14 times since the Frankenstorm struck.
In his next act of magical transformation, Romney will probably emerge costumed
as the caped champion of FEMA first-responders. But I think American voters are surely
wising up, by now ...