For better or worse—although really, who would argue better?—2017 was the year Twitter commandeered politics.
One hundred and forty characters at a time, we got live glimpses into the mood and mindset of our commander-in-chief, which in turn provoked live glimpses into the mood and mindset of his opponents and supporters, which in turn often provoked another presidential tweet. No matter how desperately you might have yearned for the messianic return of the fail whale, a vaguely dystopian Twitter feedback loop invaded our phones and televisions and earbuds, whether we were verified influencers or bad-follow eggs, or had to resentfully ask younger coworkers what those things were.
Here in California, governance by tweet has yet to take as firm a hold as in Washington D.C. Nevertheless 2017 saw hashtags and retweets help lead to new laws and sometimes new lawmakers. And while there will always be those who complain about the nuance sacrificed even in the newly capacious 280-character limit, nuance never generated stuff like this:
So here’s a recap some of the biggest California political stories of the year via the medium that dominated it. Grab some covfefe and take a trip down memory lane.
Women’s March sets stage for California as the “Resistance”
Just two days after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, protesters joined Women’s Marches in cities across the globe to demonstrate against the new administration. In California, cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego hosted hundreds of thousands of marchers, many donning pink “pussy hats” in an ironic objection to the president’s past treatment of women. Critics complained that the protesters were simply throwing a public tantrum over the election’s outcome.
Several prominent California political figures participated in the protests, which followed a blistering statement from state legislative leaders insisting that “While Donald Trump may have won the presidency, he hasn’t changed our values.” Although perhaps ultimately overhyped, the narrative of California vs Trump and #stateofresistance loomed over the action and rhetoric of Sacramento the entire year.
Xavier Becerra sues Trump again, and again, and again
Typically, state attorneys general don’t get this much publicity. When Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Xavier Becerra to be California’s new attorney general—the first Latino to serve as the state’s top lawyer—he knew the former Los Angeles congressman would receive far more scrutiny than Brown himself got when held the job nearly a decade ago.
Called the legal “speartip” of the resistance, Becerra has put California’s name on more than 20 lawsuits against the Trump administration on issues ranging from undocumented immigrant children to transgender military service to Department of Energy regulations over ceiling fans. While more litigious than his counterparts in other states, Becerra has often let others outside California helm higher-profile conflicts with Trump. “We’re not looking to pick a fight, but we’re ready for one,” he said during his confirmation hearing.
A California Republican tries bipartisanship, and it backfires
GOP Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley figured he was being Reaganesque: As Assembly GOP leader, he wrangled seven other members of his party to join Democrats in extending cap and trade, the state’s major climate change program and a top legislative priority of Gov. Brown. In a legislature where Democrats have enjoyed two-thirds majorities in both chambers and major bills often pass along strict party lines, Mayes aided in one of its few bipartisan achievements.
Perhaps Mayes should have monitored his Twitter replies a bit more. Despite backing from groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, Mayes’ cap-and-trade vote was denounced by the more conservative wing of the party as a sellout to regulation-happy Democrats. The rift between Mayes and his party became so great that he ultimately lost his Assembly leadership position, casting doubt on whether California Republicans would accept a more moderate brand of leadership in the future.
Single Payer Gets Shelved
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from Paramount, likewise knows what it’s like to confront a Twitter storm from a rabidly angry partisan base. Rendon’s online reckoning came shortly after his decision to shelve a Senate-passed bill that would have created a single-payer health care system in California.
A priority of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party and the powerful California nurses’ union, single payer moved to the forefront of the California progressive agenda in early summer as Republicans in Congress attempted to repeal and replace Obamacare. Rendon, who described himself as a “long supporter of single payer”, worried that the bill had no financing mechanism built into its hefty $400 billion annual price tag.
#MeToo Hits Sacramento
In October, more than 140 California women including sitting legislators signed a letter calling for an end to what they described as a pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the state Capitol. With the #MeToo movement inspired by sexual misconduct allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein enveloping powerful men in other industries, the signatories of the “We Said Enough” letter called for women in California politics to share their stories.
Eventually, names were named. Los Angeles Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigned amid allegations of groping female staff. Artesia Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza was suspended from leadership posts after allegations he had sexually harassed former employees, including a 23-year-old. And San Fernando Valley Democratic Assemblyman Matt Dababneh resigned after multiple allegations of sexual assault. All three have contested the accusations.
The scandals have cast a pall over the Capitol, with reports of male staff and legislators avoiding meetings with female lobbyists and whispers of more scandals to come.
California becomes a sanctuary state
Throughout the year, California lawmakers introduced dozens of bills aimed at stopping the Trump agenda. But none was more contentious than Democratic Senate leader Kevin de León’s “sanctuary state” bill, which limited the instances in which state and local law enforcement can turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
After intense negotiations that liberal critics of the bill say watered it down, lawmakers passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law in September. The Trump administration has denounced the measure, which takes effect Jan. 1
Fires, North and South
Through early December, nearly 1.4 million California acres had gone up in flames in 2017, the worst of this decade. October’s massive fires in the Bay Area’s northern suburbs of Sonoma County killed more than 40 people and depleted a housing stock already stretched to capacity. Two months later, nearly 30 fires spread across Southern California, causing mass evacuations and surreal scenes throughout the region. The still-burning Thomas fire, near Ventura, is the largest wildfire in modern California history.
While California and the Trump administration have largely been cooperative on issues like disaster aid, Gov. Brown has repeatedly criticized President Trump for denying global warming’s role in the disasters.
California Republicans sensed a political opportunity in April when the state Legislature approved $5.2 billion in new annual gas and vehicle taxes to fix the state’s dilapidated roads and infrastructure. There was a reason the bill barely squeaked by on a party-line vote, with the governor and Democratic legislative leaders exerting enormous pressure on wavering moderate lawmakers. As subsequent polling showed, Californians aren’t big fans of paying 12 cents more per gallon at the pump.
To kickstart an initiative to repeal the tax—and gin up Republican turnout next November—the California GOP launched #GasTaxtrophe. While the hashtag doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue, conservatives are hoping opposition to the tax becomes a rallying cry next year.
And it’s not as if Democrats have perfect comedic chops.
Jerry, Kevin and taxes
As the state’s leading Democrat and Republican, respectively, neither Gov. Brown nor House GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield are stars of the political Twittersphere. Lt. Gov. and gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is perhaps the most prolific tweeter among California Democrats, while Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel is by far the most entertaining follow in California politics.
In defending the Republican tax reform bill in Congress, McCarthy called out Brown on Twitter for the gas tax hike.
Another year, another tax increase. Dems in Sacramento are out of control. My message to @JerryBrownGov ⬇️ #GasTax https://t.co/s6Ammidj6j https://t.co/YaJpbvjX5W
Brown typically is cautious about deploying heated rhetoric on social media. But when the tax bill was finally passed, he issued one of his most visceral tweets of the year.