In state Capi­tol, a push to re­sist

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY ME­LANIE MA­SON AND JAZMINE ULLOA

SACRAMENTO — Within a day of Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion last Novem­ber, Cal­i­for­nia’s top Demo­cratic law­mak­ers re­sponded with a joint state­ment that con­tained an au­da­cious prom­ise. It was their state, not Washington, D.C., that would be the “keeper of the na­tion’s fu­ture.”

An artis­tic ren­der­ing of that vow, with loop­ing cal­lig­ra­phy and a roar­ing griz­zly, is now on dis­play in the of­fices of Se­nate leader Kevin de León and Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don. In the wake of Trump’s win, the words seemed to be a sort of foun­da­tional doc­u­ment — Cal­i­for­nia’s dec­la­ra­tion of re­sis­tance.

That pugilis­tic pos­ture is of­ten con­veyed in short­hand: Cal­i­for­nia ver­sus Trump. But the en­su­ing leg­isla­tive year, which ended Fri­day, re­vealed the messy re­al­ity of squar­ing up against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“It’s been chal­leng­ing,” De León (D-Los An­ge­les) said, bleary-eyed as he took

a break dur­ing the fi­nal days of the ses­sion. “You have to de­bate, you have to ne­go­ti­ate, you have to make your case, and I think at the end of the day, we’ll still have the most far-reach­ing pol­icy in the na­tion.”

The Capi­tol’s rul­ing Democrats in­tro­duced more than 35 bills to mount pol­icy block­ades against Trump. Four have since be­come law or part of the state bud­get, and eight more await the gov­er­nor’s sig­na­ture. Some have been scaled back from their orig­i­nal sweep­ing premise, and many early bills flamed out en­tirely. The most acid-tipped barbs came from more than two dozen res­o­lu­tions, mainly re­gard­ing Trump’s con­duct, which do not carry the force of law.

But for some mem­bers, even those had value. As pro­ceed­ings limped into Fri­day evening, the Assem­bly lobbed an­other salvo, a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for a con­gres­sional cen­sure of Trump’s re­ac­tion af­ter a vi­o­lent white su­prem­a­cist rally in Char­lottesville.

“I would like to move on to an­other sub­ject, too,” said Assem­bly­woman Shirley We­ber (D-San Diego), the daugh­ter of Arkansas share­crop­pers. “But I keep get­ting pulled back to re­al­ity…. Ha­tred and dis­crim­i­na­tion is a weed, and it grows best in ne­glect.”

The very first day of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion was marked by de­nun­ci­a­tions of Trump in both houses, when the pres­i­dent was weeks away from oc­cu­py­ing the Oval Of­fice. He’s been in­escapable ever since, seep­ing into the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere of a state he has yet to visit as pres­i­dent.

Fears that Trump would cre­ate a fed­eral reg­istry of Mus­lims prompted a bill that would ban the state from shar­ing in­for­ma­tion for any data­base based on re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin. The pres­i­dent’s break from prece­dent in de­cid­ing not to re­lease his tax re­turns in­spired a mea­sure that would re­quire such dis­clo­sure from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to ap­pear on the Cal­i­for­nia bal­lot. Both mea­sures now await a de­ci­sion by the gov­er­nor.

In a state that’s home to more than 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple with­out le­gal res­i­dency, im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy drove a slew of ac­tions. The cen­ter­piece was De León’s “sanc­tu­ary state” bill, an ef­fort to shield peo­ple from de­por­ta­tion by lim­it­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween law en­force­ment and fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties.

The broad pro­tec­tions in his pro­posal quickly col­lided with op­po­si­tion from law en­force­ment and un­ease from Brown. Just days be­fore the close of ses­sion, the gov­er­nor and De Léon agreed to scale back the bill, per­mit­ting com­mu­ni­ca­tion with im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties if the in­mate was pre­vi­ously con­victed of one of roughly 800 crimes.

The changes were meant to guard against back­lash from the public, should the pro­posal be per­ceived as shield­ing vi­o­lent crim­i­nals from im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment. Nancy McFad­den, Brown’s top ad­vi­sor, said they sought to bal­ance the goals of aid­ing im­mi­grants “with­out go­ing so far that we end up hurt­ing our­selves and start­ing to sway public opin­ion against the very thing we’re try­ing to do.”

“We do not want more peo­ple to join the Trump train of hate,” she added.

Other am­bi­tious bills stalled en­tirely. De León’s pro­posal to en­shrine large por­tions of fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, such as clean air and water pro­tec­tions, into state law — in an­tic­i­pa­tion of roll­backs from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — with­ered with­out a vote Fri­day night. And two bills that would pun­ish pri­vate com­pa­nies that aided Trump in his as-yet un­re­al­ized bid to build a wall on the coun­try’s south­ern bor­der failed to ad­vance.

Still, the Cal­i­for­nia-ver­sus-Trump nar­ra­tive per­sisted, re­li­ably at­tract­ing na­tional at­ten­tion when state lead­ers threw out jabs. But their feisti­ness be­lied a vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the mercy of a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that is tightly in­ter­twined with the state.

The push by Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act un­der­scored how ex­posed the state re­ally is. A suc­cess­ful roll­back threat­ened to fi­nan­cially crip­ple the state, which had fully em­braced Oba­macare.

But of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged the state has been spared, thanks to the pres­i­dent’s leg­isla­tive fum­bles.

“We’ve been for­tu­nate that he’s po­lit­i­cally im­po­tent,” Ren­don said, adding that if Trump im­proved his suc­cess rate in en­act­ing his agenda, “there’s not a whole heck of a lot that we can do.”

The next venue for more as­sertive ac­tion from Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials is likely to be the courts, where the rights of states ver­sus the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are tested. Just as con­ser­va­tive Texas used lit­i­ga­tion in an at­tempt to stymie then-Pres­i­dent Obama on im­mi­gra­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, Cal­i­for­nia is look­ing to the ju­di­ciary to block Trump’s goals.

In Jan­uary, Ren­don and De León hired former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to help plot the Leg­is­la­ture’s le­gal strat­egy, al­though only the state Se­nate con­tin­ued the re­la­tion­ship af­ter sev-

eral months.

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Be­cerra has sued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion six times since April and filed am­i­cus briefs op­pos­ing a num­ber of the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies, in­clud­ing the travel ban on peo­ple from cer­tain Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

Among the law­suits are chal­lenges to the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion for de­lay­ing pro­tec­tions for stu­dent bor­row­ers and to the Jus­tice De­part­ment for threat­en­ing to with­hold money from ju­ris­dic­tions with “sanc­tu­ary” poli­cies that pro­tect im­mi­grants.

The ex­act­ing work of lit­i­ga­tion does not al­ways align with the ur­gency of pol­i­tics. When Trump an­nounced plans to re­scind De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, or DACA, an Oba­maera pro­gram to shield from de­por­ta­tion about 800,000 young adults who were brought to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren, 15 states quickly re­sponded with a court chal­lenge. Cal­i­for­nia was not among them; Be­cerra filed his own law­suit five days later.

“When we filed our law­suit to de­fend the DACA re­cip­i­ents, peo­ple said, ‘How come you didn’t do it last week when they did it in New York?’ ” Be­cerra re­called with a chuckle. “I said, look, we have to do this the right way.”

Through­out the year, the de­sire to chal­lenge Trump was “an im­por­tant com­po­nent. We had to spend time on it, no doubt,” said McFad­den, Brown’s ad­vi­sor. “But it hasn’t been the sole fo­cus. And it shouldn’t be.”

Trump had lit­tle to do with the year’s big­gest leg­isla­tive bat­tles. The nail-biter votes were on hik­ing the state’s gas tax to re­pair roads and bridges, and se­cur­ing a pack­age of bills to pro­mote af­ford­able hous­ing — is­sues that had eluded law­mak­ers for years. The push to ex­tend the cap-and­trade pro­gram, Cal­i­for­nia’s sig­na­ture tool to com­bat cli­mate change, was col­ored by the pres­i­dent’s re­jec­tion of ac­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment, but it would have been a top pri­or­ity of Brown’s no mat­ter who oc­cu­pied the White House.

“The pres­i­dent didn’t cre­ate the water cri­sis,” said Assem­bly GOP Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Val­ley). “He didn’t cre­ate the hous­ing cri­sis that we have. He didn’t cre­ate the fact that we haven’t built enough free­ways and we’re stuck in traf­fic. None of that was cre­ated by him.”

Mean­while, in res­o­lu­tions, the Trump cri­tiques could be most scathing — us­ing his loss of the pop­u­lar vote to prompt a call to abol­ish the elec­toral col­lege or point­edly not­ing his fond­ness for Rus­sia.

But they also led leg­isla­tive lead­ers to share their back­grounds, sto­ries they said painted the di­verse pic­ture of Cal­i­for­nia fam­i­lies.

In one frank ex­change over a res­o­lu­tion to con­demn Trump’s DACA de­ci­sion, Assem­bly­man Miguel San­ti­ago (D-Los An­ge­les) said his ex­pe­ri­ence as the son of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants with­out le­gal sta­tus was not much dif­fer­ent from that of a “Dreamer,” save for where he was born.

“I was born here, and yes, I be­came an ‘an­chor baby,’ ” he said, iden­ti­fy­ing with a deroga­tory term for the child of a mother with­out U.S. cit­i­zen­ship.

But the zeal to de­nounce Trump could also be alien­at­ing to Repub­li­cans, who felt Democrats were go­ing out of their way to ver­bally kneecap the pres­i­dent.

“It’s been so partisan,” said Sen. Joel An­der­son (RAlpine). “If you had a solid mes­sage go­ing to Trump, wouldn’t it be bet­ter if the Trump sup­port­ers were on board with the res­o­lu­tion, so it solved the prob­lem?”

The un­ease wasn’t lim­ited to Repub­li­cans. Ren­don (D-Para­mount) de­clared in Fe­bru­ary he was tired of talk­ing about Trump and said last week he fret­ted at times that Democrats “de­volved into sym­bol­ism.” He made a point of re­mind­ing his mem­bers mul­ti­ple times of the need to keep fo­cus on “Cal­i­for­nia’s busi­ness,” and in con­ver­sa­tions with re­porters, he im­plied his Se­nate col­leagues were not do­ing the same.

For De Léon, the ap­petite to take shots at Trump re­mains strong.

“Don­ald Trump is a threat to ev­ery­thing that we stand for as a great state,” he said. “So, it’s not just as pres­i­dent of the Se­nate, or as a sen­a­tor, but more im­por­tantly as an or­di­nary cit­i­zen and son of a sin­gle im­mi­grant mother do I take th­ese po­si­tions.”

His part­ner in re­sis­tance, Ren­don, has moved away from seek­ing di­rect con­fronta­tion with the pres­i­dent. His fo­cus has turned in­ward, ar­gu­ing a suc­cess­ful Cal­i­for­nia is the best way to un­der­mine Trump.

Ren­don said he’s not even too sure about the term “re­sis­tance,” which he says evokes France un­der Nazi rule in World War II. He wob­bled on whether it is an apt metaphor for Cal­i­for­nia to­day.

“I think, yeah, to an ex­tent it is,” he said, be­fore re­vers­ing him­self. “No, I don’t ac­tu­ally.

“There was a point early in the year at which I thought Cal­i­for­nia was go­ing to feel like it was an oc­cu­pied state,” he con­tin­ued. “I no longer feel that way…. Cal­i­for­nia’s firmly in con­trol of its own destiny.”

ALLEN J. SCHABEN Los An­ge­les Times

CAL­I­FOR­NIA Se­nate leader Kevin de León, left, fields ques­tions on the “sanc­tu­ary state” bill as former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck lis­ten at a news con­fer­ence in Los An­ge­les in June.

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