Bill Whalen

In politics and in hoops, NorCal has a leg up

Kevin Durant, center, joins head coach Steve Kerr, left, and General Manager Bob Myers at the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility Thursday.
Kevin Durant, center, joins head coach Steve Kerr, left, and General Manager Bob Myers at the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility Thursday. Associated Press

When Kevin Durant opted for a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, the narrative was one of an NBA great ditching small-market Oklahoma City for the “Splash Brothers” and the splashier Bay Area.

Another way to think of Durant’s choice is Northern California outmuscling Southern California – which is pretty much how politics works in the Golden State these days.

Before settling on Oakland, Durant was courted by the Los Angeles Clippers. Though L.A. is considered the promised land for pro athletes, Durant said no. Instead, the Warriors landed the superstar.

And so it is with some of California’s higher-profile policy matters, including gun control and the homeless.

Los Angeles County supervisors would like to pass a local income tax on millionaires to fund homeless prevention programs. But that move is opposed in Sacramento by Gov. Jerry Brown. The supes are trying to introduce a resolution in the Legislature asking Brown to declare a statewide homeless emergency – a request that Brown’s previously declined and probably will again.

Advantage: NorCal.

On gun control, Proposition 63 on the November ballot would prohibit large-capacity ammunition magazines, require most gun buyers to pass background checks and require licensed vendors to handle most ammo sales. The measure’s primary spokesman is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor who is running for governor in 2018.

However, Proposition 63 didn’t stop the Legislature from forwarding a dozen gun control bills to Brown. Nor did it discourage Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León of Los Angeles from dismissing Newsom’s initiative as “irrelevant” and pushing his own ammunition measure. Newsom’s camp responded by trashing de León as “a self-serving cynic completely consumed with petty personal grudges.”

One way to interpret that exchange is two alpha Democrats trying to dictate policy important to their party’s progressive core. De León may have scored well in June with his legislative maneuvering on gun control. But if Proposition 63 prevails in November, it’s Newsom who gets the bigger political boost.

Advantage: NorCal.

Remember this north-south divide two years from now when California chooses a replacement for the term-limited Brown – and maybe Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s successor as well.

The Northern California political free agents who hope for greater glory in Sacramento (no NBA stars say that about the Kings) include Newsom and possibly billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.

From the Southland come state Treasurer John Chiang, like Newsom already running for governor; Secretary of State Alex Padilla; former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the man who replaced him, Eric Garcetti.

The Warriors, with their flashy play and star-studded lineup, were the sexier of Durant’s California options – not the Clippers, even with glamorous Hollywood stars in courtside seats.

As a fellow Bay Area transplant, here’s to Durant delivering for “Dub Nation.” It won’t be easy; his new team will be despised in ways usually reserved for teams with “Los Angeles” on their chests.

Much of that whining will emanate from Southern California, whose elected leaders must be tired of tangling with their northern counterparts.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at