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Republican Self-Reliance Writ Large: Taking Flood Aid Unwise, Undignified

(via Larry Kurtz, via Montana Cowgirl!)

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard talks about self-reliance a lot. Montana state legislator Tom Burnett, Republican from Bozeman, takes self-reliance very seriously. He says Missouri River flood victims should turn down FEMA assistance and do their own repairs:

In 1970, Bear Creek flooded, ripping out our family's bridge and the bridges of a dozen of our neighbors. A state official proclaimed Bear Canyon a disaster area. Money began flowing, other peoples' money. The FEMA worker came around with his clipboard. He had a talk with Dad and Mom. He offered to pay for fixing the damage with federal taxpayer funds. I remember the check he offered was for about $2,500.

Dad had a chainsaw. He had standing timber. He had tools and know-how. He knew how to mix concrete. He had an independent spirit. He and Mom would rather not take handouts. They felt squeamish about burdening others.

They refused the handout. They told the FEMA worker they would rebuild the bridge with their own funds and labor. It would have been a lot easier to take the money and call a contractor. But it would have clipped their independence. Theirs was the wise, dignified choice [Tom Burnett, "Flooding and Independence," blog, 2011.06.02].

There you have it, Dakota Dunes, Fort Pierre, and the rest of you folks hip deep in Big Mo. Kick those National Guardsmen off your properties and fill your own sandbags. Buy your own dump trucks and skidsteers. Build your own levees. When the water recedes, fire up the chainsaw, chop down your own trees, hew your own boards, and build your own garage from scratch.

And when you're done, start schooling your own kids, plowing your own highway, and catching and incarcerating your own terrorists. School and roads and law enforcement are handouts just like flood assistance, and by gum, handouts "are the root of our nation's spending and debt problems."

Uff da.

I'm willing to assume that Rep. Burnett's paean to his parents' self-reliance is not a call to completely dismantle government and society. However, Rep. Burnett might want to do a better job of delineating groveling dependence and nation-wrecking handouts from the reasonable social cooperation that makes civilization preferable to the state of nature.

p.s.: David Lias reminds us what Fort Pierre looked like before the government started meddling with the Missouri and ruining our dignity and independence with things like dams:

Missouri River flooding in Fort Pierre, SD, 1952
from South Dakota State Historical Archives: Missouri River flooding in Fort Pierre, SD, 1952

pp.s.: Burnett speaks of a FEMA worker offering his folks money in 1970. Never mind that FEMA didn't exist until 1979.

Update 21:51 CDT: ppp.s: Emergency crews are ferrying groceries and medicine to folks in Roundup, Montana, where the Musselshell River has washed out all the roads to over 300 rural folks. I guess Burnett would tell them to build their own boats.


  1. larry kurtz 2011.06.10

    It would be educational to know how much of the flooding in Mr. Lias' submitted photo is due to local runoff from the Bad River, Cheyenne, Grand, and Moreau drainages that originate in locales near South Dakota. Any idea, Cory? TC?

  2. Roger Elgersma 2011.06.10

    If the farm is paid for, $2,500 is not a big deal. If the house floated downsteam and had a loan on it is a big problem. FEMA was not created for small problems. A little inflation since then but same principle.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2011.06.10

    Daugaard comes from a family whose farm is inherited for almost one hundred years. They can build a new house without a loan and just put the sink in the next year. He is in another world than most. If you are born with your butt in the butter, do not thumb your nose at someone else.

  4. TCMack 2011.06.10

    From a quick check Larry, looking at some of my resources. The flood in 1952 was the snowfall was at 150 percent above average and with some heavy rains in April. Caused the 1952 floods.

  5. JohnKelley 2011.06.10

    There is no excuse and no reason for bailing out folks who live in the floodplain: in 1881 (Vermillion), Pierre (1952), Rapid City (1972), Pierre (2011). Whether the flood plain floods is a question of when; not if.

  6. larry kurtz 2011.06.11

    I had to empty my inherited, prized Ken Hirsch rain gauge again yesterday; got another .30 last night and it's still raining.

  7. larry kurtz 2011.06.11

    Humanity evolved as the riparian ape, John; migration should be celebrated, not outlawed.

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