California Leading Left

EVAN VUCCI/AP PHOTO

In this Nov. 17, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump talks with California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom during a visit to a neighborhood destroyed by the wildfires in Paradise, Calif.

The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Democrats who rule California took on homegrown tech giants Uber and Lyft over their workforces, convinced some of the world’s biggest automakers to buck the president on fuel emissions and passed a law that could change college sports nationwide.

On issues big and small — hotels soon will be forbidden from providing guests with little plastic shampoo bottles — California this year has marched further left and tried to pull the rest of the country with it.

The state, given the virtual irrelevance of its Republican Party, is pushing the boundaries of liberal policy, forcing Democrats to draw their own lines on the role of government, corporate responsibility and social policies.

America’s most populous state (nearly 40 million people) and home to the world’s fifth largest economy (about $3 trillion), California has long used its weight to set trends. But that role has crystallized in the Trump era, with the state emerging as the nation’s defense system against rollbacks of environmental and health care laws and the federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump, meanwhile, has pointed to California as a cautionary tale for the rest of the nation, casting it as a failed state of homelessness and intrusive government.

“They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell,” Trump told reporters last month after traveling to California to raise money for his re-election campaign.

Trump lost California by a wide margin in 2016 and has essentially no shot of winning there next year. He’s visited several times to tour disaster zones or raise money since he won the presidency, but the state is a far more popular destination for Democrats looking to collect campaign cash from tech and Hollywood donors.

Democrats hold a super-majority in the Legislature, both U.S. Senate seats, 46 of California’s 53 U.S. House seats and all statewide offices.

With little influence on policy, Republican state lawmakers can only echo Trump’s criticism. They say Democrats are making California prohibitively expensive — millions of people live in poverty and inequality is stark — and wasting money on programs like the $79 billion high-speed rail project that is year’s behind schedule.

State Sen. Shannon Grove pointed to gasoline that is at least $1 per gallon more than the national average and worsening homelessness. Los Angeles County now has nearly 60,000 homeless people and in one San Francisco neighborhood exasperated residents recently paid to put boulders on the sidewalks to block people form sleeping there.

“It is frustrating that we continue to battle with the administration on the federal side when we have some serious issues here that need to be taken care of,” said Grove, who represents a conservative district spanning southern parts of the state’s agriculture-rich Central Valley to the high desert.

Skepticism about some of California’s new policies goes beyond partisan grumbling. Many laws Newsom signed this year were vetoed by his predecessor, fellow Democrat Jerry Brown, who called them superfluous or too expensive. Brown blocked the bill requiring college campuses provide abortion medication, arguing the services were readily available elsewhere, and resisted a ban on smoking on state beaches, saying the power of the state should only stretch so far. Other policies, like mandating later school start times, struggled to pass the Legislature in prior years, with critics arguing the new mandate would create headaches for parents and schools.

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