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Feud heats up

YarnellDenial of funds for Yarnell fuels hostility between Obama, Arizona officials

Arizona wasn’t asking for much in disaster relief funds to aid in the recovery from the Yarnell Hill Fire, but the denial struck deep.

To some, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rejection of the request was the latest in a series of reprisals from the Obama administration and deepens the distrust between the state and federal government.

“I’m only assuming (Obama) doesn’t like Arizona’s politics,” said House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, who represents the area hit by the fire, which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters.

The wildfire destroyed 108 homes, or about 20 percent of the area’s housing stock.

Gov. Jan Brewer sent the state’s request to FEMA on July 9, a day before the fire was fully contained. She asked for funds to help homeowners rebuild, roughly estimated at $2.3 million for those who are eligible, according to documents prepared by the Arizona Division of Emergency Management.

Although the estimated dollar request seems relatively small, the human impact was huge.

“This is their Hurricane Sandy, this is their Katrina and we hear that a lot,” said Wendy Smith-Reeve, director of the state Division of Emergency Management.

The state also asked for help in analyzing and treating the soil in the burned area, an undertaking that requires Arizona to pay

25 percent of the cost, which is still being assessed.

FEMA turned down the request Aug. 9, basing it on the determination that the state, local government and volunteer agencies are capable of handling the repairs without the help of the federal government. The rejection came two days after the president visited Arizona to push new federal homeowner policies.

The first high stakes conflict between the administration and the state came in July 2010, when the Department of Justice sued the state to stop enactment of SB1070, immigration enforcement legislation signed by Brewer earlier that year. Brewer became a nationally recognized ardent critic of Obama’s immigration policies and her criticisms culminated in the iconic photograph of her wagging her finger at the president on a Mesa tarmac in January 2012.

In December 2011, the Department of Justice issued findings that Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office engaged in widespread racial profiling and civil rights violations against Latinos. The Department of Homeland Security also took away MCSO’s authority to enforce federal immigration laws. The department took away the same authority from seven other police agencies in June 2012.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he has no doubts immigration politics has entered into several decisions involving Arizona, including the DOJ targeting his office.

Retired U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, a Tucson Democrat, said people in politics generally want to help in disasters and bureaucrats typically aren’t political, so there is no reason why Obama or FEMA would want to stick it to Arizona politically.

DeConcini said Brewer should have gone to Arizona’s congressional Democrats to make her case for the aid since Obama is a Democrat.

“That’s how it happened when I was in the Senate,” DeConcini said. “But when you have this hostility, it doesn’t work.”


Estimated Disaster Relief By the numbers

Homes Destroyed: 108

(20 percent of housing stock)

Total Loss: $6.8 million


Temporary Housing:  $79,422

Repair Assistance: $49,839

Replacement Assistance: $2.08 million

Other Needs Assistance: $46,526

Total: $2.3 million


April 2010: Gov. Jan Brewer signs SB1070

July 2010: Department of Justice sues to stop enactment of SB1070

December 2011: Department of Homeland Security strips Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of authority to enforce federal immigration law.

January 2012: Brewer points finger during animated conversation with Obama on Mesa tarmac.

June 2012: DHS strips seven Arizona police departments of immigration enforcement authority.

August 2013: FEMA denies Arizona request for disaster relief for Yarnell Hill Fire.


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