‘Resist’ effort makes strides
A host of bills opposing Trump advance, but not all that opponents had pushed
In a supercharged year marked by hard-fought victories on affordable-housing and climate change, California lawmakers pushed through a passel of legislation to thwart initiatives from the Trump administration — but also discovered that even their popular resistance has limits.
Democratic legislators passed a bevy of bills aimed at shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation while they’re at work, at school or even in police custody, and the anti-Trump “resistance” sent Gov. Jerry Brown bills to protect climate data from federal censorship, guard against a Muslim registry and block future presidential candidates from the California primary ballot unless they release their tax returns — a direct swipe at the president, who broke with tradition by keeping his secret.
But resistance proposals that spooked industry groups or raised alarms about cost — from internet privacy to single-payer health care to environmental protections — stalled in the Legislature this year, unable to overcome powerful lobbyists in opposition or skepticism from more moderate Democratic legislators.
“It doesn’t seem to be about Trump as much as it seems to be about the way things have always been around here. We’re still functioning in the same ideological world as we were before,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said in an interview shortly before the Legislature ended its lawmaking marathon in the wee hours Saturday.
A bill to protect California from the threat of rolled-back federal regulations on clean air and water didn’t even get a vote in the Assembly. Nor did Senate Bill 100, legislation carried by the Senate leader to generate 100 percent of the state’s electricity from clean-energy sources by 2045. And the sweeping single-payer health care proposal to replace private health insurance in California with a single, government-run plan — introduced while Trump and Congress were trying to dismantle the Obama-era Affordable Care Act — stalled in the Assembly this summer.
Lawmakers, strategists and advocates noted that legislation affecting industry regulation, consumer costs — or both — is notoriously tough to move in Sacramento, despite California’s reputation for liberal politics. One notable exception was this year’s victory that extended California’s “cap-and-trade” climate program through 2030, but its passage required major concessions to the oil and agricultural industry, support from the California Chamber of Commerce, and the force of Brown — who persuaded some Republicans to back it.
“Resistance to Trump is only one dimension,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. Just because legislators pitch their bill as a way to stand up to the president, he said, “you can’t treat them simply as an up or down vote on Trump.” And often, he said, the votes have much more to do with the underlying policy or legislative horsetrading.
Pitney said legislators needed to be careful not to let the resistance rhetoric overpower their ability to get things done. “These folks have a state to run,” he said. “Lawmakers have to make laws and not just make statements about the president.”
In 2017, at least, they managed to do both. The Capitol’s anti-Trump movement has successfully defined California as the Trump administration’s main foil, said Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based strategist and former aide to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been publicly critical of Trump.
“The resistance got a lot done,” he said.
Some of the bills that failed, he said, were symbolic proposals that carried economic repercussions. One such example, he said, was a bill to block the state from doing business with any contractors who helped build a border wall between California and Mexico, a bill he called “fraught with impracticality.”
A raft of prominent environmental bills aimed at defending against the Trump administration passed the Senate but flickered out before reaching the floor of the more moderate, business-friendly Assembly.
Senate Bill 49 would have enshrined federal Clean Air Act provisions into California law, as a way to protect against possible deregulation by the Trump administration. It “was opposed by some of the same interests that are embracing Trump’s rollback at the federal level,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.
Another bill that failed to gain traction responded to a Trump executive order opening the door for new offshore oil development. Senate Bill 188 would have prohibited the State Lands Commission from approving new leases for pipelines or other infrastructure to support new federal oil and gas development off of the California coast.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, the bill’s author, said she saw its deadlock as a sign of the influence of oil companies in the Capitol. Business interests “have lobbyists throughout the building at all times — and frankly the environmental community just can’t keep up,” Jackson said. “The oil companies are very powerful in this state … and they were adamantly opposed to this bill.”
Senate Bill 100, which wasn’t specifically touted as Trump opposition but would have committed California to generating 100 percent of its electricity with renewable energy by 2045, faced the same fate, despite support from celebrities like Bill Nye the Science Guy.
“You notice as we engage in this Trump resistance that somehow the loneliest among all the bills we have been moving are the environmental and the clean-energy bills — and those have seemed to meet the most resistance in this Legislature,” said Sen. Henry Stern, DCalabasas, an environmental law attorney who carried SB 49 with de León.
The environmental movement “does not have a natural, well-heeled lobby,” he said. “When there’s a lot of big interests, it makes it a tough vote where you have to stand up to all these folks opposing it. It takes sort of a different type of courage.”
Consumer groups bemoaned the death of a bill to protect internet users from relaxed federal regulations on internet privacy. The bill, Assembly Bill 375, would have placed limits on how internet service providers could sell data on their customers — essentially replacing Obama administration regulations that were undone earlier this year by the Trump administration. It was opposed by internet and telecom companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Google and Facebook, who prefer looser regulations.
Ernesto Falcon, an analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internet rights group, said he thought the influence of the telecom industry — one of the largest campaign contributors — simply overpowered legislators’ desire to resist Trump. “These state senators have a lot of constituents who will be asking why they didn’t respond to the administration’s assaults on their consumer protection,” he said.
But many legislators were eager to take aim at Trump on issues without business opposition, passing resolutions, including one to affirm the Paris climate agreement that Trump jettisoned. On Friday the Legislature also passed Senate Bill 149, which would require presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to get on the California ballot.
Some of the bills — such as the one aimed at preventing the state’s participation in a federal Muslim registry — received broad bipartisan support. But Republicans have complained that the resistance, on top of the state’s regular business, has been a distraction.
“There was certainly a theatrical element to a lot we saw proposed this year,” said Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Granite Bay, “and it’s my hope that folks have now gotten that out of their system.”