San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was avoiding questions about his interest in joining a possible Hillary Clinton administration last week, instead stressing the urgent need for more affordable housing to help lessen the scourge of homelessness in his city.
“I need a good partner in the White House,” Lee, a Democrat, said at a campaign stop, where he touted his party’s presidential hopeful and sharply criticized her Republican rival, Donald Trump.
“I can’t have somebody who is going to build walls and then allow us to fail. That’s not the way this country works. That’s not the way these big-city mayors I get to work with want to have it. They all want a good partnership.”
California will have fewer allies in Washington after Tuesday’s election, in which the state bucked the national tide and continued its leftward march. Voters overwhelmingly supported Clinton, elected Attorney General Kamala Harris, a progressive Democrat, to the U.S. Senate and bolstered the party’s majority in the Assembly.
They also legalized recreational marijuana, strengthened gun control, raised taxes on cigarettes and extended a separate income tax hike on the wealthy. They approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal justice measure to give inmates a greater chance at parole and are poised to uphold an environmentalist-backed ban on carry-out plastic bags.
But for all the liberal victories, Trump’s stunning election threatens years of Democratic progress here and deprives the state’s ambitious social change agenda of a sure collaborator in Clinton. From local concerns like affordable housing and homelessness, to statewide priorities such as climate change, health care, immigration reform, gun control and the protection of organized labor, nowhere is the nation’s embrace of Trump felt more acutely than in deep-blue California.
Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention who helped him win the nomination, explained what he sees as the difference between California and the rest of the country.
“There’s a growing realization in the other 49 states that the California template is not what is needed and they are going to tweak it,” he said. “The ‘nanny government’ approach will be proven to be a failure, and the voting public will swing back to a more reasonable level of government intrusion into people’s lives.”
State Senate President Kevin de León said in an interview that he’s been in regular contact with Brown and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to assess possible impacts on an array of programs: the health insurance exchange, reimbursement rates for low-income seniors, school and senior lunches and health services for undocumented children.
“If this was a Mitt Romney coming into the presidency, or even a George W. Bush, there would be a real expression of disappointment, but you would figure out how to still work in a collaborative, cooperative manner to further move policies that benefit California,” de León said. “This is a dramatically different situation where you have a presidential candidate who has expressed views that run strongly in opposition to the values of California. And that’s why we are on high alert ... We can’t go backwards.”
Trump has California allies in Washington, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Reps. Darrell Issa of Vista, Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Duncan Hunter of Alpine. Issa’s race for re-election was too close to call on Wednesday.
But there are striking policy gulfs between Trump and most of the state’s Democratic elected leaders, divergences that will give a new generation of politicians an elevated platform from which to launch a resistance.
In Harris’ victory speech late Tuesday, the senator-elect seized on California’s diversity and progressive ideals as reasons to lead on issues like immigration reform, abortion rights and climate change: “Do we retreat, or do we fight?” Harris asked. “I say we fight.”
Mike Madrid, a GOP consultant in Sacramento, said he expects California’s crop of elected leaders to position themselves as a bulwark against approaches that clash with their values. Harris could become a fixture on Sunday public affairs shows, Madrid said, while the Legislature may become “a bill factory that bucks the White House.” Just last year, it passed a resolution condemning Trump’s views on immigration and calling on the state to divest from his many business enterprises.
“We are going to be what Texas was during the Obama administration,” Madrid said. “The more aggressive the Republican views coming out of Washington, the more aggressively you will see California react.”
Perhaps no Trump pledge has generated as much outrage as his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. De León, after helping undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses and child health care, said he would strongly push back on any wall. Brown, earlier in the presidential campaign, mocked Trump by suggesting if he wins the race California might have to build a wall around itself.
University of California President Janet Napolitano said she plans to meet with undocumented students to address their concerns about Trump, who said he would rescind an executive action that protects them from deportation.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for governor who successfully advanced the gun control and pot legalization measures, said Trump’s election is reminiscent of what happened in California in the mid-1990s with the passage of “three-strikes” legislation, Proposition 187’s restriction on public benefits for illegal immigrants and Proposition 209, which banned race, ethnicity or gender preferences in college admissions.
Pot legalization, Brown’s sentencing measure and the overturning of a partial ban on bilingual education via Proposition 58 show a wide swing back to California’s current place, Newsom said.
“We’re marching to the beat of our own drum,” he said. “I am very proud of our state. It’s a reminder that California can be big and bold and California can move the needle ... The world is looking to California’s leadership ... We lead by example. The future happens here first.”
Brown, in his fourth term, has made addressing climate change and advancing clean energy a centerpiece of his legacy, forging a common bond on the issue with de León and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer. Trump, meantime, derided the concept of global warming as a creation of the Chinese “in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”
Steyer told The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday that although he isn’t sure what to make of Trump’s most incendiary statements about the environment, “I do understand what it means for the (United States) to walk away from the Paris climate accord,” abolish or curtail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or promote burning more fossil fuels.
Steyer said he was concerned.
“If President Trump follows through on the policies put out by candidate Trump, this will be a very bad outcome for us,” he said.
At a primary event in Fresno, Trump suggested “there is no drought” because California has “plenty of water,” despite the state being in its fifth year of a shortage. The remarks stirred concern among environmentalists, and were featured in a TV ad for Democrat Michael Eggman in his uphill challenge to Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock.
“Believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water, so that you can have your farmers survive,” Trump pledged. “We’re going to get it done quick. Don’t even think about it. That’s an easy one.”
His remarks have given hope to farmers and House Republicans, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, saying Wednesday that Trump is “more up to speed on water infrastructure than any other president we’ve had.”
Trump, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others, said he’s planning for a swift repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, known as Obamacare, a program that health exchange leaders in California have held up as a model for the rest of the nation.
Now backed by a GOP Senate and House, Trump also promised to defund Planned Parenthood, adding in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that if abortion were made illegal, “there would have to be some form of punishment” for women.
Kathy Kneer, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, issued a verbal warning to Trump about targeting the health organization, which has served 1 in 5 women at its centers. “I think it would be very foolish of him or even the House and Senate to pick a fight with Planned Parenthood,” Kneer said.
She said the effort to abolish Obamacare is far more complicated than some anticipate because of the 22 million people enrolled nationally, particularly those with preexisting health conditions. “It’s great for them on the surface, until they start peeling back that onion.”
And Kneer also sought to assure California women that abortion rights in the state would be protected even if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 is threatened by a new U.S. Supreme Court. The state has its own, stronger constitutional protection.
She concluded: “We survived the Bush years, we survived the Reagan years, and we are going to survive the Trump years, too.”
Michael Doyle of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.