Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump
Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.
Ready for another year? Follow along here.
A resolution declaring the California Legislature’s opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil drilling, shouldn’t, on the face of it, be very controversial. The vast majority of Californians oppose drilling off the state’s coast. And a resolution doesn’t actually change the law anyway—it’s just a formal way to state an opinion.
But never underestimate the potential for politics to rear its head.
After news broke earlier this month that the federal government would exempt Florida from its plans to expand offshore drilling—widely seen as a move by the Republican administration to favor a state with a Republican governor—a GOP assemblywoman in California drafted a resolution saying that California wanted the same treatment.
“Protecting our California coastline has had bipartisan support for decades, and I think it’s much more impactful when someone from the same party is willing to bring colleagues together and say, ‘No. We think you should leave our coastline protected,’” said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin.
Though Baker is a Republican, most voters in her suburban East Bay district are Democrats. Unsurprisingly, Democrats have been trying for a few years to snag her seat. They’re trying again this year—and the Assembly Democrats’ political consultant quickly seized on Baker’s resolution.
“There is no way Dems should allow Baker, who has a failing 42 percent grade on the Sierra Club Legislative Scorecard, to be a fake face of the state’s resistance against the Trump Administration’s rollback of protections of our coast,” political consultant Bill Wong wrote in an email to the Democratic caucus. “Dems should introduce their own legislation and denounce the Baker resolution as a deceptive effort to fool voters in her district.”
Wong said he sent the email because he didn’t want “Democrats to validate her lackluster record, her misrepresentation of her environmental record.” (It’s true that Baker earned a 42 percent score from the Sierra Club last year. It’s also true that she was among a handful of Republicans who voted to extend California’s cap-and-trade program last year, and was the sole Republican who voted in 2016 to mandate that the state drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.)
Sure enough, four days after Baker’s resolution was introduced, four Democrats introduced a similar resolution. The lead author, Assemblywoman Monique Limon of Santa Barbara, said she and her Democratic colleagues had announced their plans to draft a resolution before Baker introduced her version.
“Hers may have crossed the desk first,” Limon said. “But we made it very public to all our colleagues that this is something we wanted to work on.”
Baker said she was rebuffed when she asked last week if she could be included as a co-author on the Democrats’ resolution. But the tiff seems to have resolved after CALmatters began making inquiries. Now both resolutions, which are procedurally different, will have Baker and Limon as bipartisan co-authors.
In a meeting about school safety and guns, President Donald Trump pivoted to some favorite targets: California and immigration. He said he might remove immigration and border officers from the Golden State and predicted that the result would be “a crime mess like you’ve never seen,” CNN and other news outlets reported today.
He mentioned gangs as a problem that the federal government was trying to address, with “no help from the state of California,” where one foreign gang establishes “franchises.”
“They’re doing a lousy management job, they have the highest taxes in the nation and they don’t know what’s happening out there,” Trump said.
Trump made his remarks in a session with state and local officials who had dealt with shootings at schools. He did not explain how he believed gangs and school shootings were related.
He went on to say, “the sanctuary city situation, the protection of these horrible criminals …. If we ever pulled our ICE out and said, ‘Hey, let California alone and let them figure it out themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back.”
“I’m thinking about doing it,” he said, without offering details about a specific plan.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on a range of issues, said the state works “in concert with federal laws” and defended its pursuit of those who commit crimes.
“We’re going after drug dealers, sex traffickers. We don’t stop doing that. My division of law enforcement is doing that right now,” Becerra said in a statement. “What we won’t do is change from being focused in public safety – we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”
Protestors wearing dolphin, shark and polar bear costumes joined the throngs who descended on Sacramento Thursday to speak out against the Trump administration’s proposal to expand oil drilling in federal waters off the California coast.
After a rally outside the state Capitol they marched to a library a few blocks away where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted the sole public meeting on the proposal in California. The agency is holding one meeting in each coastal state.
The format frustrated some attendees. Instead of the typical government hearing where long lines of people wait to comment at a microphone, visitors were directed to mill about a large room where federal employees were stationed at about a dozen tables. They explained different aspects of the national offshore drilling program—how leases are approved, how much money it brings to the U.S. economy, how the government responds to and tries to prevent oil spills—and answered questions from the public. A table with computers and comment cards was available for visitors to formally submit comments to the government.
But environmentalists—many wearing blue shirts saying “Californians against offshore drilling”—had traveled from around the state to attend the meeting and craved an opportunity to sound off.
“That one table? For hundreds of people?” Sharolyn Hutton of Eureka said, looking at the computer table set up for public comment.
At one point a few protestors began shouting in the middle of the room, “This is ridiculous! This is shameful!”
John Romero, spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the format was meant to provide more meaningful dialogue between the public and the government.
A representative from the Western States Petroleum Association stopped by the meeting. He noted that Californians use almost 2 million barrels of oil each day. “We want to make sure folks understand our enormous energy consumption here,” said Bob Poole, the associations director of production.
The oil association president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, issued a statement saying that the exploration of potential drilling sites in federal water “is the first step in helping California increase our energy security through potentially increasing our domestic energy production. Currently, we import over 1 million barrels of oil in super tankers from overseas locations each and every day.”
California’s elected officials have already made clear that they oppose more drilling off the coast and will try to block it by making it difficult to transport oil through state waters, which extend three miles off the coast. With bipartisan support the Assembly passed a resolution Thursday criticizing the Trump Administration plan and the State Lands Commission, which oversees oil drilling in state waters, sent the federal government a letter this week saying it is “vehemently opposed” to more oil and gas drilling in the Pacific ocean.
California has joined a group of states suing two federal agencies for suspending a 2015 rule that extended the definition of streams and wetlands entitled to protection under the Clean Water Act.
The “waters of the United States” rule was adopted in 2015 to better define which bodies of water are covered under federal law, both for protection against development and depletions and as a bulwark against pollution.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that he sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bringing the number of suits filed by California against the Trump Administration to more than two dozen.
“The California Department of Justice will not spectate as this administration attempts to undo yet another critical environmental protection,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will do what is necessary to defend the Clean Water Rule and our right to clean water. The Rule was legally promulgated, based on science, and will help protect our precious water resources.”
The Obama-era regulation was intended to apply rigorous science to more clearly spell out which waterways were protected and to put an end to a free-for-all in which states applied differing interpretations. The new definitions included floodplains and streams that do not flow year-round.
Those rules were strenuously opposed by developers, who said they swept up much of the undeveloped land in California.
In addition to the lawsuit brought by attorneys general from 11 states, the suspension of the 2015 regulation has been challenged by a host of environmental organizations.