SACRAMENTO — Just five weeks into the job, Gov. Gavin Newsom has crystallized his vision of what California will look like in the Trump era: It won’t just be the hub of the resistance against the president; it will be its own nation-state.
But before Newsom can create a country-within-a-country, he had to defuse two multibillion-dollar grenades that his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, left in his in-box: high-speed rail and the delta tunnels project. In proposing Tuesday to scale back both of Brown’s unpopular legacy projects, Newsom hopes he can preserve enough political capital to get his own legacy projects on the fast track.
If he can do that, he can lead California down its own path for as long as Trump is president. California must go it alone, because Trump’s portrait of America is “fundamentally at odds with California values,” the governor said Tuesday in his first State of the State speech.
Newsom said the president has “described a country where inequality doesn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change doesn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum.”
So California, as the world’s fifth-largest economy, is going to be a counterweight, a West Coast enclave built on its own values and funded, in part, by an anticipated $21.6 billion surplus.
President Donald Trump talks with California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom during a visit to a neighborhood destroyed by the wildfires, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. At right is California Gov. Jerry Brown. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee via AP, Pool)
So while the White House is “laser-focused on destroying the Affordable Care Act,” as Newsom said Tuesday, he proposes that California offer its own health-insurance subsidies to families earning up to $150,000. He wants to expand Medi-Cal coverage to all Californians, including undocumented immigrants, until they are 26.
To counter what Newsom characterized as a “so-called emergency” at the nation’s southern border, he said Monday that California will remove its National Guard troops stationed there and redeploy them to take care of state issues like wildfire protection and the eradication of illegal cannabis farms.
Newsom even appointed California’s own surgeon general — Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who is the chief executive of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.
Even as he offered rare praise for Trump for calling attention to soaring prescription drug prices, Newsom highlighted his executive order that would create a single-purchasing system for medication, which he said “will save hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the people of California.”
Since Trump and the GOP-led Congress passed a new tax law that largely benefited the wealthy, Newsom wants California to expand its earned income tax credit to “a million more Californians who need it the most.”
Newsom has already proposed that California extend paid family leave and offer universal preschool and free community college to help low-income residents, since little is being done in Washington to address wealth inequality.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said California has little choice but to act on its own.
“The federal government is no longer a reliable partner in delivering health care, in supporting immigrants, supporting LGBT people, in protecting the environment, so we need to forge our own path,” Wiener said. “We can do everything in our power to protect our state, but we need a reliable federal partner. And right now we don’t have that.”
But even Newsom realizes he can’t go it entirely alone. In scaling back high-speed rail to a Central Valley-only project for the foreseeable future, the governor nodded to the $3.5 billion that Washington has allocated for the train line so far. He could have added that far more money from the federal government will be needed if the state ever tries to build out the line that voters envisioned when they agreed to pay for high-speed rail in 2008.
And Congress has yet to approve $9 billion that California needs to recover from two years of devastating wildfires. Newsom has taken pains not to antagonize Trump on the subject, passing up an opportunity to needle the president when he suggested that the state’s forests would be much safer if they were only raked regularly. Last week, Trump tweeted his appreciation for how “nice” Newsom had been to him.
Orange County Republican state Sen. John Moorlach worries about the California vs. Trump battle getting too personal. While Newsom is creating task forces and commissions to deal with everything from privacy issues to homelessness, Moorlach said, “We should be doing the same with D.C. How do we work together collaboratively to get things done instead of just shooting statements back and forth?
“I can appreciate his wanting to make an emphasis of (sparring with Trump). That’s probably smart politics,” Moorlach said. “But I’d like to see the governor and the Legislature get past that. ... I don’t want to jeopardize innocent municipalities in a personal feud.”