In 2017, California’s Democratic leaders and lefty activists brandished fierce rhetoric and staged large protests to proclaim all-out resistance to the person and policies of Donald Trump.
In 2018, the 46 percent 45th president has responded with his favorite weapon: the counterpunch, vicious and hard.
In the first days of the year, the administration battered California on multiple fronts, putting Sacramento in a defensive crouch and scrambling for unorthodox legislative and aggressive legal strategies to fight back.
“This is further proof of President Trump’s war on California,” said State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.
Following last month’s passage of a tax-cut bill that damages anti-Trump blue states, this one most of all, liberal California now is engaged in an epic state’s rights struggle with a right-wing federal government, which in the space of three days challenged a trio of other critical policies:
Immigration. On January 2, Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, denounced California’s new “sanctuary state” law, which mandates reduced cooperation by law enforcement with immigration authorities.
Among other things, Homan threatened to “start charging some of these politicians with crimes” for supporting sanctuary policies and threatened that “California should hold on tight … they are about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers.”
Sativa crackdown. Three days after recreational marijuana became legal in California, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rollback of Obama policies allowing states to regulate pot and reinstating a hard-core federal prohibition against the substance.
The move not only rattled millions of state potheads but also shocked the burgeoning cannabis industry, injecting great uncertainty amid thousands of companies poised to jump into what is expected to be a billion-dollar market that provides new revenues to local and state government. More work for lawyers: Cue State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, already embroiled in several dozen cases against Trump, for another challenge.
Offshore oil. As the Independent reported earlier, the Interior Department moved suddenly on January 4 to order that California’s coast be opened to oil drilling in federal waters, unraveling a long-settled issue and providing a rebuke by Trump’s climate-change deniers to Governor Brown’s global leadership on the issue.
Perhaps the most far-reaching strike against California, however, is the new Republican tax law, which caps federal deductions for state and local taxes, long employed by Californians, at $10,000.
Political writer George Skelton reported this week that “6.1 million Californians who itemize their federal income tax stand to lose an average of $8,438 in state and local deductions. The average California deduction was $18,438 in 2015, the latest year with complete data …”
In response, de León and fellow lawmakers have concocted an, um, innovative scheme to allow future state income tax payments to be categorized as charitable donations; theoretically, this would allow the “contributions,” for which there is no federal limit, to be deducted on IRS filings.
None of this, of course, touches on a vast number of other Trump-California conflicts, from gun control to green energy subsidies, not to mention his seeming indifference for victims of the lethal wildfires that struck the state last year, a concern that did not register on his Twitter feed as he became the first president in more than a half century not to visit California in his first year in office.
Bottom line. As a practical matter, the most plausible way to blunt the clobbering of progressive state policies is for Democrats to win back the House of Representatives in the fall.
California is ground zero in that fight, as Democrats are actively challenging seven GOP House members around the state.
Seeing a silver lining in the latest developments, state Party Chair Eric Bauman told Politico: “Trump has just handed the Democratic Party in California the ammunition we need.”