The impact of a Donald Trump presidency on the Central Valley is still a great mystery. However, modern American presidents have broad powers that they can put into effect quickly. There are more than a few very specific actions Trump could take that would directly affect Central California.
Some of the bigger promises made by president-elect Trump will require the cooperation of the Republican-controlled Congress. Promises like a border wall, mass deportations, and repealing Obamacare will take some time.
But with a stroke of his presidential pen, Mr. Trump can bring sudden and consequential changes that could reverberate throughout the Central California.
One of the biggest changes could be to the distribution of water to farmers in the Valley.
“If I win believe me we are going to open up that water. So you can have your farms survive. So your job market will get better,” Trump said during a rally in Fresno in May.
Ryan Jacobsen with the Fresno County Farm Bureau says the Obama administration has chosen to pump less water and give smaller allocations than they are legally allowed to.
Jacobsen says the worst impacts of the drought are being exaggerated by those rules and that Mr. Trump understands and could act to fix that.
“There are not necessarily set numbers, there are ranges. The current administration has, for the most part, pumped at the bottom of those ranges for some time. And we are hoping, obviously, that even small differences in that could make significant changes down here on the farm,” Jacobsen says.
Jacobsen also thinks that having a Republican Congress and president could go a long way toward passing a much discussed California water bill that would be more favorable to the needs of farmers.
But there is another side of Mr. Trump’s promises that unsettles people like Jacobsen and could impact the farm economy: immigration.
Mr. Trump has been firm about deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, including during numerous interviews during summer on outlets like CNBC: “They are going to have to go and they are going to have to come back in legally. Because, if we don’t do that we are not going to have a country. They are going to have to go”.
Mass deportations of undocumented Hispanic immigrants would deeply upset the workforce needed to cultivate the valley produce.
The threat of deportation is already terrifying both documented and undocumented residents because many families have mixed immigration statuses, says Jesus Martinez with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative or CVIIC.
Short of mass deportations, Martinez says Mr. Trump could act by reversing President Barack Obama’s executive order that protects from deportation some 27,000 undocumented immigrants in the Valley who were brought here as children.
“It allows individuals who came here as very young individuals to actually have a chance to integrate themselves more effectively into American society and Economy. And to deny them that chance at this stage is really, really sad. It would be a very sad chapter in American immigration history,” Martinez says.
More recently, Mr. Trump has walked this promise back. Now saying he would prioritize deporting people with a criminal record. Although doing so would involve executive actions similar to Mr. Obama’s which have run into issues with judicial branch.
There is a third action that could have tremendous consequences for the Central Valley farm economy and that is trade.
Trump has staked out a protectionist trade position, promising to slap tariffs on goods from countries he feels are undermining the American economy like Mexico and China.
He made this point clear during a speech in Pennsylvania: “This wave of globalization has wiped out totally, totally, our middle class. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn it around and we can turn it around fast,”
Gary Hufbaur with the pro-free trade think tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote a widely cited paper in September forecasting the potential consequences what he calls a ‘trade war’ with other nations.
Hufbaur says the Central Valley is uniquely vulnerable to job losses caused by a trade war because farm goods are very easy to target if other nations fight back and stop buying our produce, which he says could trigger a serious economic downturn.
“Nearly every country in the Valley (could have) employment loss close to 4%. The lucky ones maybe only 3%. That’s a pretty big impact. That is recession time,” Hufbaur projects.
Hufbaur says when it comes to trade any president has a level of discretion on increasing tariffs without congressional approval that rivals his ability to command the military. Meaning he act unilaterally at any time.
Not everyone in agriculture fears Trump on trade. California Citrus Mutual put out a statement Monday welcoming Trump and downplaying policy concerns saying “He is not against trade, but he does desire better trade agreements. He is not against immigration or immigration reform, but he is for secure borders”.
Finally, a central promise of Mr. Trump’s campaign was the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
“First of all, I have been so against Obamacare from the beginning. We are going to repeal and replace,” Trump said during a CNN town hall.
About half a million Central Valley residents found insurance coverage through the ACA’s combination of subsidized private insurance and expanded Medi-Cal. That’s coverage they could potentially lose if congress sends Mr. Trump a bill repealing Obamacare.
But John Capitman, a professor of public health at Fresno State, says there are many regulatory rules on health care that the executive branch sets.
They include things like changing what insurance plans are required to cover and when hospitals are considered non-profit.
“So our hospitals have made real efforts to try and understand that law and comply with it. But those are regulations. So that could potentially all change under a new regulatory scheme,” Capitman says.
Still, Capitman says because there is not a well-defined plan to replace Obamacare, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty about the local consequences of sweeping away the ACA.
President-elect Trump built his campaign as an outsider ready to shake up the Washington establishment. How far he is willing to push his authority could have big consequences very close to home.