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News Brief: Calif. Wildfires, Arizona Senate Race, Amazon's HQ2

Nov 13, 2018
Originally published on November 13, 2018 5:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Emergency workers in Northern California have found 13 more bodies.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This makes the so-called Camp Fire the deadliest single blaze in the history of that state with a total of 42 lives lost. Firefighters are still struggling to contain it and coping with a second deadly fire near Los Angeles. And there are still more than 200 people missing.

GREENE: And many of those people are from the community of Paradise, where NPR's Eric Westervelt spent some time yesterday. And he is now in Chico, Calif., nearby.

Hi there, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So these numbers of people missing - I mean, it's just astonishing. What are authorities saying about where these people might be?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, the scale is astonishing. I mean, I was in Paradise yesterday, and it's just - it's incredible. Most every home in this town of some 27,000 burned to the ground. It's really the exception if the house or the business remains standing.

And when I was there, firefighters were, you know, searching block by block for hotspots that were still cropping up. There were still little fires coming up. And they were also looking out, David, for human remains or for pets that needed to be rescued. The local sheriff has asked for another 150 search and rescue specialists to help, you know, search for human remains. He's also asked for more cadaver dogs and portable morgue units. At the same time, you know, he would not say whether he expects the fire's death toll to rise. But he did say he wanted to complete the search as soon as possible.

And here in Chico, there are several donations, sort of help sites for those displaced from the fire. And I met a man named Josh Bates yesterday. He told me his 27-year-old daughter, Teal Gunter, is still missing.

JOSH BATES: We're going over to the sheriff's department after we search the shelters to see if we can find her.

WESTERVELT: So David, Bates says his daughter was last seen on Thursday evening around 6 in and around the fire zone. And you know, he's holding out hope she might be with a friend, might have lost her cellphone, just hasn't been able to connect with family, might be in some shelter. But you know, there are many people like Mr. Bates up here who are anxious. They're waiting to find out about their loved ones. And they feel like they want more information, and they want it soon. Every day they have to wait is just kind of a slow torture.

GREENE: Yeah, I can't even imagine. So you have many people in that community who are missing loved ones and just have no idea right now. And then you just have an entire community that has been displaced with a lot of people who evacuated. I mean, how are people holding up being just away from homes that could be destroyed, where they might be nothing left?

WESTERVELT: It's tough. I mean, people are certainly pulling together as a community. There's several of these donation sites that are just filling up with clothes, with shoes, with pillows, with toiletries. You know, people need everything. They need the basics. They, many times, just ran with, you know, their pet and the clothes they had on that day. At the Elks Club yesterday, I met a man named Michael Varner who picked up a used booster seat for his child.

MICHAEL VARNER: We need a car seat - came with the clothes on our back on foot - lost all the vehicles, lost the house, lost everything.

GREENE: Eric, do people in Paradise think this community is going to come back somehow?

WESTERVELT: You know, it's unclear. It's so soon. It's only been, you know, a few days since the fire swept there. And you know, many I talk to say we're just trying to get through the day. We're trying to - we haven't been able to go back to see their homes, whether it's destroyed or not. In many cases in Paradise, it is gone. You know, I talked to one woman, this 85-year-old named Betty Branham who told me yesterday - look, it's just - you know, it's too early to think about my next moves.

GREENE: NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's covering the fire that is still burning in Northern California and the community that was hit so hard, the community of Paradise.

Eric, thanks a lot.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. Arizona has elected a Democratic senator for the first time in 30 years.

MARTIN: Yeah, this was a very close race. But after all of the early votes and mail-in ballots were counted, Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat, prevailed. Right after the election, President Trump tweeted out a baseless claim of electoral corruption in the race, even suggesting that there be a new election because the Republican hadn't won. In the end, though, the Republican candidate, Martha McSally, conceded without suggesting that the election was anything but free and fair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTHA MCSALLY: I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona's first female senator after a hard-fought battle. I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.

MARTIN: Sinema responded to McSally's concession with a call for unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KYRSTEN SINEMA: We can embrace difference while seeking common ground.

GREENE: All right. Bret Jaspers of member station KJZZ in Phoenix has been covering this race and joins us.

Hi, Bret.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

GREENE: OK. So you live in a red state. President Trump won the state of Arizona. No Democrat has been elected to any statewide office in 10 years. What happened here?

JASPERS: Well, Sinema did a good job of starting the race off talking about her personal biography and running a lot of ads defining herself and reinforcing her image as a moderate, as an independent voice. She's a House member who's voted with the president 62 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight. So she really, you know, pushed on those centrist moderate credentials and, you know, ran trying to get crossover Republican votes and independent votes, which there are quite a lot of independents here in Arizona.

GREENE: Well, that's so interesting because this is a moment where a lot of polling is suggesting the Democratic voters in much of the United States want people they send to Washington to take a very confrontational approach to President Trump and really go after him. She's talking about how much she voted along with the president. So who are the voters who are sending her to Washington?

JASPERS: I think she did get a lot of those crossover Republicans and a lot of independents, those suburban women that everybody talks about who are just kind of upset with the divisiveness in Washington. And her opponent did kind of embrace the president. And so Sinema running as a very moderate candidate, that was a successful strategy for her. And I think that she's likely to kind of govern in the same way and not necessarily take on the president directly. But she - you know, maybe on the big issues vote with her party but try as much as possible to, you know, work across the aisle - that's kind of the brand she's made for herself.

GREENE: And another interesting thing that could happen here - I mean, we heard the two candidates with - you know, sounding - you know, it was civil - I mean, a lot of civility in both their voices. The governor might be appointing a new senator for John McCain's seat, if Jon Kyl resigns from that seat, and might appoint McSally. So you might have both of them actually serving in the Senate.

JASPERS: That is a possibility. I think that Governor Ducey - you know, he's a very cautious politician. And so he is going to kind of read the political tea leaves and see what's the right decision. But McSally was a legislative fellow for Jon Kyl. He's a mentor for her. So you know, they have a very close relationship. So that - it could be that Ducey ends up picking Martha McSally.

GREENE: All right. So votes still being counted days after that election and a Democrat is being sent to Washington from the state of Arizona. Bret Jaspers is from member station KJZZ in Phoenix.

Bret, thanks.

JASPERS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So it looks like Amazon is finally picking its new headquarters. And you know, why settle on one new home when you can have two, right?

MARTIN: Right? If you're Jeff Bezos, you can, I guess.

GREENE: Yeah.

MARTIN: So Amazon had a whole lot of cities to choose from. The company got offers from more than 200 cities. In the end, it looks like they couldn't get everything out of just one location. So as, David, you have noted, they settled on two - one new base in Long Island City in New York and one in Crystal City, Va., which is just outside of Washington, D.C. The company is expected to make the official announcement today.

GREENE: All right. We have NPR's Alina Selyukh with us, who's been covering all this.

Hi, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

GREENE: Good morning. So this felt at times like, I mean, "The Bachelor." I mean, people compared it to that. You had 200 cities who were just - who were trying to win over the hearts of Amazon. The process, it looks like, is finally ending. Why does it look like we have two winners and not one?

SELYUKH: Well, it's a plot twist.

GREENE: Right.

SELYUKH: But that - I mean, that will be exactly the question that we'll look for the company to answer - why is it that they're splitting the two? It is a little bit anticlimactic since this was such a much hyped Olympic-style bidding from all across the U.S. and Canada. And I expect the company will say that they couldn't figure out a way to find one location that could deliver or attract 50,000 highly skilled tech types in the timeline that Amazon wanted, which is 10 to 15 years. And it is quite hard to accomplish.

GREENE: So - OK. It looks like they're choosing two East Coast cities here. I mean, there was a lot of anticipation about whether they might choose a city, like, in the heart of the country. Are D.C. and New York excited beyond belief, or what's the reaction?

SELYUKH: Well, none of this is official. Let's be clear. We're still waiting for an official announcement.

GREENE: Right.

SELYUKH: So this is based on some reporting that's out there and that we've done ourselves. And actually, we also should note, Amazon is one of NPR's financial sponsors.

GREENE: Right.

SELYUKH: But on one level, this will be a huge, big win given how high-profile Amazon is, how high-profile this search was. It is 25,000 jobs - really well-paid jobs. Even if it's split in half, it's a pretty considerable injection of jobs into the economy.

Locals are kind of conflicted, I guess. You're already starting to see concerns about the impact on traffic and housing prices, which are already quite a challenge in both metro areas. Here in D.C., you know, Crystal City is really not a popular place. It's kind of a dead zone. But real estate owners are already raising prices in those areas.

And also, another big question will be incentives. So New York Senate and state politicians are already taking to editorial pages to show their concern about how much the local taxpayers may be paying for this expansion of Amazon into their areas. And both New York and Northern Virginia have not disclosed what kind of incentives they're offering Amazon.

GREENE: All right. So we're talking about the impact on these communities. What about the impact here on Amazon? Like, does opening two new headquarters, or a split headquarters - is the company going to change?

SELYUKH: HQ2, HQ3 - I mean...

GREENE: Yeah.

SELYUKH: ...What is it going to be called? A lot questions.

It's hard to say. There's going to be two big questions for Amazon. I think one is, what parts of Amazon will come to these areas? There's already a considerable presence of Amazon in both D.C. area and New York. New York has fashion, books, advertising. D.C. and Northern Virginia have a lot of lobbyists and cloud operations government contracts. But you know, what happens next? Will people decide to move from Seattle? Will they decide to split a bunch of teams? What's going to happen there?

And the other big question is what kind of response this gets from the locations that did not get picked.

GREENE: Right.

SELYUKH: This process gave Amazon extensive information about the various locations. Maybe they will negotiate further - other deals elsewhere.

GREENE: HQ4 or HQ5 or HQ6.

SELYUKH: Who knows?

GREENE: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS ANIMALS SONG, "POOLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.