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February 14, 2014
Editorial: President Obama's first visit to the Valley could have been so much more

Obama_drought.JPG(Feb. 14 - By the Editorial Board)

It was kind of President Barack Obama to finally stop by Fresno on Friday. He even brought a gift - emergency drought relief for California, including millions of dollars for cattle farmers.

What would have been much nicer is if the president had spent more time with real people - like the middle-class families and working poor he claims to care so much about. Goodness knows, it would not have been that difficult to find Valley residents who are jobless and struggling to reach the American dream.

Alas, on the first visit to the Valley in his five years in office, Obama's schedule barely allowed the general public to catch a glimpse of him, much less share their stories.

Setting foot in a melting pot, where undocumented farmworkers are essential, Obama also had a golden opportunity to take another strong stand for immigration reform. But that would have conflicted with the message of the day - that the president is serious about the drought.

In midafternoon, Obama arrived at Fresno's airport aboard Air Force One, accompanied by Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and California's two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. Rather than take a motorcade, the president hopped on a helicopter to the San Luis Water District, where he held a closed-door roundtable with two dozen selected leaders, including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the general manager of the powerful Westlands Water District and the head of the United Farm Workers. Obama then joined Gov. Jerry Brown for a tour of a field in Los Banos, which Del Bosque Farms is keeping fallow due to the drought. There, Obama spoke briefly about the drought, as well as his proposed $1 billion climate-change initiative.

He said his administration is making available as much as $100 million that California livestock operations can seek to cover their losses, $60 million for food banks to help families in financial distress due to the drought, and $3 million in emergency grants to small, rural districts in danger of running out of drinking water. That windfall will help California.

Obama acknowledged, however, that solutions are needed for the state's long-term water that go well beyond this drought. "Water has been seen as a zero-sum game: agriculture against urban, north against south," he said. "We're going to have to figure out how to play a different game. We can't afford years of litigation and no real action."

Yet by inviting only congressional Democrats to Friday's events, Obama whiffed on a chance to reach out to Republicans, whose support is needed. The cold shoulder will make it more difficult for the White House to help broker a compromise between a bill rammed through last week by the Republican House and a more reasonable measure introduced this week in the Senate.

Three hours or so after arriving, Obama jetted off for a weekend at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, where he is to talk Middle East politics with the king of Jordan and squeeze in a few rounds of golf.

Don't get us wrong, we're glad that Obama came by. It was better than just flying over the Valley to get to a fundraiser in Hollywood or San Francisco. But his visit wasn't what many in the Valley were hoping for, or all that it could have been. He should do better next time - and there does need to be a next time.