Even as volunteers circulate petitions that could lead to a 2018 vote on whether California should leave the United States, some of the impetus behind the nascent so-called ‘Calexit’ secession movement may be dissipating.
Calexit got nowhere between the time a book proposing the idea appeared in 2013 and the election last year of President Donald Trump. Suddenly, Trump’s seemingly authoritarian tendencies and his raft of policies threatening cherished California goals and regulations boosted the idea of separation, its poll rating jumping from single figures to about 32 percent soon after Trump’s inauguration.
Even then, no elected California official gave the notion much credence, most scoffing at it if they said anything at all. Instead, many officials went to work to ensure the Trump administration would affect California as little as possible.
Trump ordered the deportation of far more undocumented immigrants than authorities had under Barack Obama, and raids began in workplaces, grocery stores and other locales that had seen none in many years. So California legislators quickly began work on a “sanctuary state” law that, when passed (as appears likely), will prohibit state and local law enforcement from investigating or arresting people for their immigration status. State, county and local officers would also be forbidden to aid federal officers in immigration raids, even if their city or county leadership prefers otherwise.
Trump signed a law repealing previous rules limiting what broadband or Internet providers could do with customer information. A California law re-installing those regulations in this state immediately appeared in the Legislature.
When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked a 2016 federal rule giving transgender students the same legal protections as all other schoolchildren, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded quickly. “California’s laws are strong and protect students regardless of their gender identity,” he said. “Our state stands with transgender students.”
Essentially, he told Trump and his cohorts, “if you act to remove rights and protections, we will make sure they survive here, at least.”
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Then there was Gov. Jerry Brown, first traveling to China in the style of a head of state and then welcoming foreign leaders like the president of the tropical Fiji Islands to Sacramento just after Trump pulled America out of the Paris climate change accords. That agreement never had the status of a treaty and didn’t commit this country to do much. But it was a symbol.
So Brown, continuing a practice begun by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed deals with major provinces in China and elsewhere, and with some small countries willing to pledge actions aimed to slow climate change. Those documents also fall short of treaty stature, but they establish that California is willing and able to act separately from the national administration.
There’s also health insurance, where Trump and congressional Republicans keep trying to gut the Affordable Care Act that spawned Covered California and gave health insurance to at least 4 million Californians who didn’t previously have it. The California response: a single-payer health insurance plan that passed the state Senate before stalling in the Assembly, ostensibly to get details worked out. Again, California eventually may go it alone, acting contrary to Trump’s preferences and promises.
Most major candidates to succeed Brown next year backed all these moves and will likely take similar actions of their own if elected. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and leader in all polls taken so far on the 2018 run for governor, said of several Trump policies: “We’re not going to let it fly in California.”
Every one of these California actions, both prospective ones and moves already made, assert states’ rights, but also move toward independence of a sort. “California is clearly developing a sense of nationalism even if perhaps it is not yet willing to accept the terms of formally becoming a nation,” said longtime Calexit leader Marcus Ruiz Evans.
So strong are some state stances that Trump officials are occasionally forced to backtrack, as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt did the other day when he rescinded an earlier threat to Clean Air Act waivers that long have allowed California to pioneer anti-smog tactics.
With California already acting very independent, is there a really a need for a risky action like formal secession?