Opinion: California’s national role becomes more activist
California has long had a major role in national affairs, often defined by personalities as disparate as Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy. They’ve been chief justice, presidents, vice presidents, speaker of the House and a possible speaker-to-be.
For sure, without California’s two Democratic senators and the huge Democratic majority in its delegation to the House of Representatives, plus its 55 electoral votes in 2020, Republicans today would have solid control of both Congress and the White House.
And California state laws have often been precursors of major national trends, as befits the Union’s most populous state. There have been the Proposition 13 property tax limits, imitated in 26 other states at last count, and California’s path-breaking anti-smog rules, copied automatically by more than a dozen other states. Plus many more examples.
Only rarely has this state acted in direct reaction to the politics of other locales, but that’s probably about to change within the next few months.
As states big and small, from Texas and Florida to Mississippi and Arkansas, limit abortion rights and even discussion of eons-old realities like homosexuality and transgender life, California officials exhibit a new determination to counteract those moves.
It’s yet to be determined whether this strategy will somehow reverse at least partially the pandemic induced half-percent drop in California’s population over the last two years.
But the contrasts between California laws and the new ones elsewhere are already stirring rumblings in places like Austin, TX and Jacksonville, FL. Women seeking abortions have reportedly begun coming to California, a repeat of what began happening 55 years ago, after Reagan signed a liberal therapeutic abortion law in his first months as governor. This is partly in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Mississippi’s new and very restrictive law limiting women’s reproductive choices.
Flights from Texas, Mississippi, Florida and other states are far cheaper than half a century ago, so even poor and lower-middle class women can likely get here for procedures if they feel desperate.
What about the Texas law allowing citizens to sue doctors and others who help women get abortions or provide them, even in other states? That law has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but it’s doubtful any such lawsuit would survive dismissal motions in any California court. The same for New York or Illinois, two other likely abortion destinations.
But California politicians are not merely relying on longstanding state law to resist the trend toward taking away a variety of rights, from schoolteachers discussing sexual roles to parents aiding transgender children as they try to find their way.
Where Florida has legally classed helping children deal with gender role confusion as a form of child abuse and other states attack rights like same sex marriage or gay couples adopting children, California’s Legislature now appears set to pass laws making this state a legal haven for anyone affected by some of the changes and planned changes in other states.
No one knows how many of the affected might migrate here, but some teachers in Florida schools have said they might if their current state enforces its new elementary school “don’t say gay” law.
Then there are guns, especially illegal “ghost guns” lacking serial numbers, like some apparently used in last month’s early morning massacre on a Sacramento street.
Taking a flier on the Texas abortion law, legislators — with vocal support from Gov. Gavin Newsom — are advancing a plan letting citizens sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons or their parts. Unlike other lawsuits, where plaintiffs must prove they were harmed, no such showing will be needed if this law passes. It’s an open question whether this putative law will actually produce penalties, or merely further discussion of what one state senator calls “the absurdity of the Texas law.”
It’s a brand-new phenomenon for California politicians to openly admit they are reacting to laws passed in other states. But it also promises to be a new, personal and perhaps permanent way for California to exert its influence on politicians elsewhere.
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Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.