It has been more than 30 years since any federal administration featured a Californian in a starring role. That’s 30 years through which no president really had a gut feeling for how Californians think and what America’s largest state needs.
This was never more obvious than during the four years of the Donald Trump administration, when California became a prime object of the president’s resentments, a magnet for his revenge.
After all, this state provided all of the popular vote margin by which Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in 2016, even as razor-thin Trump victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania beat her in the Electoral College.
But with California’s Kamala Harris as vice president — in a role at least as central as President-elect Joe Biden’s was under ex-President Barack Obama — it’s a solid bet California’s needs will get the attention deserved by any state with almost 10 percent of the national population.
Instead of being a whipping boy blamed for almost every problem inflicted on it by nature and myriad incompetent officials in Washington, D.C., California could find itself a favorite son for the next four years.
This will be true even if Republicans continue in control of the Senate, where they likely will have a 52-48 seat edge after two runoff elections in Georgia next month that the GOP looks positioned to win.
For even without congressional cooperation, Biden will be able to do a lot on his own, via the executive orders so often employed by Trump. Despite biting and scratching resistance led by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Trump tried to eviscerate California’s power to regulate its air quality — supposedly assured under the 1970 Clean Air Act signed by Republican President Richard Nixon. Trump castigated California for failing to control its growing problem with homelessness, partially created by an influx of poor and mentally ill migrants from other states.
Trump sought to prevent California from expanding its clean power requirements, now set to make the state exclusively reliant on renewable energy by 2050. He blamed state officials for setting the stage for wildfires by failing to clean forest floors — in national forests for which he was responsible. He encouraged oil companies to plan more offshore drilling, even near Santa Barbara, the birthplace of the environmental movement.
The list could go on. Many Trump efforts were delayed by Becerra’s court actions long enough so that Biden can now reverse them. Word is he plans to do just that during his first week in office next month.
Some of these areas, like smog control, clean power and wildfire suppression, tie directly to international efforts at climate control, where Biden also plans quickly to rejoin the Paris Accords from which Trump extricated the United States.
One of the new California advantages is the life experience of Vice President-elect Harris, who grew up in Berkeley, began her legal and political life in San Francisco and moved to the Brentwood district of Los Angeles after marrying entertainment lawyer Douglas Emhoff.
There is, for example, no way she could easily reach her home in that leafy district over the last few years without passing by a homeless encampment or two. A large one still exists adjacent to the expansive West Los Angeles Veterans Administration hospital and home, less than three miles from her recent residence.
When California officials say they need more federal support to build transitional housing or to expand the veterans’ home, Harris will therefore have firsthand knowledge of the problem, not just a government document to acquaint her with it.
California enjoyed a favored status under both Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton, in part because its votes were lynchpins of their election victories. When disasters occurred during those presidencies, from the 1994 Northridge earthquake to big fires, aid flowed here quickly.
Harris will also be more aware than any White House denizen since Ronald Reagan of California’s longtime role as the national bankroll, its citizens paying far more in federal taxes than ever came back in federal spending.
So she will know — and likely make sure Biden also knows — that it’s not favoritism to meet Californians’ needs, but simple fairness.
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