By Rick Riviera, MBA/MPP Candidate 2018
The closest I’ve come to crying since November 8th was watching Last Week Tonight’s five-minute montage of people describing all the ways 2016 has been horrible (besides the election), followed by John Oliver dynamiting a giant 2016 sign in an empty stadium . It was a catharsis that I didn’t realize I needed.
We all deal with grief in very different ways and, for me, the way to address a problem is to start thinking about solutions. Immediately after the results were final last week, I asked myself whether policy still matters in an America in which elections are won in spite of policy? If not, why was I wasting my time? And if so, what policy levers could be used to stem the tide? How could we resist whatever shape Trump’s America might take?
I walked home in a daze on election night, near midnight through West Oakland, more nervous and fearful about the future than my own immediate safety. But, by the time I got home, I’d decided that, yes, policy and government still matter, especially at the state and local level. It’s the states– and specifically the big, blue, relatively safe ones — that are going to carry the torch of good governance for the next few years.
It’s clear from the wave of violence that has hit marginalized communities all across the country (and even in the heart of the Golden Gate Recreation Area) that nowhere is truly safe. But the sobering thing is that however bad it gets in California, it must be worse elsewhere. We’re still safer. And my feeling is that we need to be safer and kinder still. Our state’s size, diversity, and economic power puts us in a unique position to keep hope alive through the dark times, and not just because we have a large and vocal community of activists willing to put their bodies on the line for what’s right.
I believe that California has the potential to become America’s America, the Shining City on the Hill that calls out to the disenfranchised all over the country and tells them that here they will be truly free. I’ve given it some thought and I have a few ideas about what our state can do in terms of legislation and policy given our united progressive Executive and Legislative branches.
- Put the Full Force of the State Behind Punishing Hate: Now, more than ever, California must lead the way on being a safe place. To that end, we should amend our hate-crimes laws to make them the toughest in the nation. I’m not often a fan of the law-and-order approach, but–though there is an extant mandatory life for first-degree hate-related murder–deliberate targeting of vulnerable populations for lesser crimes deserves more than the relative slap on the wrist currently in place (enhancement from misdemeanor to felony, addition of 3-4 years for felony convictions).
- Let Immigrants Know that We Have Their Backs: I’d also like to see the Sanctuary City program expanded statewide. Now, the difficulty here is that Trump has promised to cut federal funding to any Sanctuary Cities, so there’s going to be a huge budget shortfall. But, on the other hand, it’s very likely we’re going to see massive cuts to federal social services appropriations regardless. Either way, we will need to come up with alternative revenue–marijuana taxation alone sadly won’t cut it–so we may as well make a statement as we do. Perhaps the best way to do this is to grow our economy even further.
- Think Outside the (Coastal) Box on Housing & Jobs: The housing crisis that we’ve been struggling with should no longer be considered just a problem for those who live here. If bluer states are to shelter people seeking to escape violence and persecution elsewhere in the country, then we need to build a lot, a lot faster, and a lot further inland. It’s simply not going to be possible to keep establishing businesses and population hubs in our coastal cities.California needs to encourage industry, especially high tech and information industries, to branch out to our less-served cities such as Sacramento, Fresno, Modesto, Stockton, Bakersfield, and Redding. While these cities are traditionally more conservative, civic leaders could be receptive to policy changes that would create jobs and expand their tax bases. This could take the form of tax breaks or credits to new corporations moving into the state, or that relocate their headquarters from the coast. Newfound economic prosperity, coupled with inclusive statewide policies, could fight against the economic worries that drive resentment and anger in other parts of the country. Similarly, these may be cities in which some altered form of Brown’s failed by-Right (that is, accelerated zoning and permitting) legislation or state incentives for quick, prefabricated, modular construction have hopes of being implemented with less resistance from traditional coastal NIMBYs.
- Use Market Forces to Fight Climate Change: California should use its sheer economic clout to encourage continued investment in alternative and renewable energy. Our goal to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030 should be a model for the country. Similarly, California emissions standards have long been the benchmark for automakers, based simply on the sheer number of cars that Californians purchase, and our nearly 400,000 miles of roads. As the 6th largest economy on the planet, we have the opportunity to bring in private companies to make it happen. I believe that if California were to partner with Washington and Oregon (and possibly even large blue states further east, like New York and Illinois) on uniform environmental standards, we could create environmental regulations that de facto supercede federal rules.
- Ally with Other States to Make Every Vote Count: Finally, I’ve seen some people talk about seceding from the Union, and possibly creating a new country with Washington, Oregon and maybe Nevada (if they promise to behave). That’s not going to happen, obviously, since 2/3rds of Congress would have to approve it, and as much as they may dislike our progressive ways, they sure appreciate our tax dollars. But there is a project to ensure that the Electoral College can no longer deny the will of the majority (Clinton is currently ahead by 1.8 million votes in the popular): The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The idea is that a group of states with electoral votes totaling 270 or greater pass legislation to pledge all of their electoral votes to whomever wins the popular election. The legislation also has language specifying that the NPVIC will not take effect until the Compact includes enough states to reach the magic number. The Compact provides an end-run around the need for a 2/3rds Congressional vote for true abolition of the electoral college, since it only requires a majority vote at the level of each state. The best part of the NPVIC is that it’s not a pipe-dream. It’s already underway. California, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii and Rhode Island have all passed Compact legislation. Their electoral votes alone total 165. Similar legislation is pending in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which would bring the total to 201. The last 69 votes would be the hardest, but it may be possible to sway states like Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia. Again, this is an arena where California can take the lead, with our state and federal representatives lobbying state governments.
Maybe my thoughts won’t ever come to pass. But they seem to me to be politically feasible. More than that, though, given that someone as green as I am can come up with a handful of plausible policy ideas over a very short period of time fills me with hope for our state–and by extension, the idea of America. If I can do it, I have faith that our local policymakers and elected officials can do it, too.