Democrats, don’t be idiots. Use your power wisely

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California speaks on election night in Washington, D.C. Democrats regained control of the House, and she is in line to become speaker again.
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California speaks on election night in Washington, D.C. Democrats regained control of the House, and she is in line to become speaker again. Bloomberg

There will be divided government in our nation’s capital, but California is definitively a one-party state after Tuesday’s election. That means California Democrats in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento have very different challenges and obligations ahead of them.

As of Friday, Democrats had kept the governor’s office, appear to have swept every other statewide office and, depending on the final results, might have secured a two-thirds supermajority in both the Assembly and Senate. They now have the duty not to abuse their power or completely freeze out Republicans.

They should not, for example, repeat the debacle at the Department of Motor Vehicles in August, when Democrats opted to block a necessary audit of the very troubled agency. Gov. Jerry Brown eventually had to order a review when the public outcry got too loud.

Their ironclad grip on the state Capitol, in theory, would allow Democrats to pass new taxes or put constitutional amendments on the ballot without any Republican votes — though in recent practice, that hasn’t happened yet. However, it does give Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and fellow Democrats the opportunity to pursue many of their ambitious campaign promises on education, health care, housing and more.

But as Gov. Jerry Brown warns with every state budget, the next recession is just around the corner, so adding or expanding expensive programs will only mean slashing them when the economy slumps. And Democrats still need to find the backbone to say “no” to labor unions and other benefactors.

As for California Republicans, to be competitive again, they have to do even more soul-searching about who they are and what their message should be. Among registered voters, there are now fewer Republicans than no-party-preference voters. And that trend isn’t going to change until they present a clear and credible alternative to Democrats.

In this election, Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate John Cox, banked on anti-tax sentiment and concerns about the rising cost of living by tying themselves to Proposition 6, the initiative to repeal state fuel tax increases. That measure flamed out, however. According to the latest count, 55 percent of voters decided that catching up on long-overdue road repairs was worth paying a little more at the pump.

Clearly, if Republicans are only going to be against taxes and spending, that isn’t going to be enough. They have to show what they’re for, and how they will move everyone in our increasingly diverse state forward.

Meanwhile, Democrats who will retake control of the U.S. House in January must stretch the limits of their power to keep President Donald Trump from going completely off the rails. While Democrats representing California in Congress also must try to improve the lives of Americans on health care, education and more, their most urgent duty is to protect our democracy.

On the day after the election, Trump reacted to the Democratic takeover of the House by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointing a loyalist, Matthew Whitaker, who will now oversee special counsel Robert Mueller and who, echoing the president, has criticized his investigation.

Mueller’s 18-month probe is in its greatest jeopardy yet. What Trump calls a “witch hunt” has already produced more than 100 charges against 32 people, including 26 Russians. Four of them — all Trump aides — have pleaded guilty, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mueller’s team is reportedly writing its final report and it is absolutely essential that it be made public. If there was collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign or other wrongdoing by the president or his allies, we hope that Mueller has secured sealed indictments or has other back-up plans in case he gets fired, too.

If it’s not too late by the time the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3, one of Democrats’ first orders of business ought to be to pass the bills protecting Mueller that Republicans have blocked. Republicans in Congress have utterly failed in their constitutional duty to check the president. Some, like Trump stooge Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, have actively aided and abetted his abuses of power.

With continued Republican control of the U.S. Senate, impeachment is probably off the table. But far stricter oversight of Trump is not.

If Nancy Pelosi regains the speaker’s gavel – and we still say it would be better for Democrats to have new leadership in Congress —she must be a more forceful leader of “the resistance.”

While Trump wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday, the Democratic wins over Republican incumbents in House districts across the country, including a few in California, were a clear repudiation of his divisive and destructive presidency. The new Democratic majority has a mandate to stop it from getting even worse.