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California Dreams of Love From Biden After Four Years of Attacks

Nov. 23, 2020, 10:31 AM

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris isn’t the only Californian likely to head to Washington in January.

Several of her fellow Golden Staters, who have a wide range of expertise shaped in the progressive left, could have a hand in forming policy under the Biden administration. It’s a shift for the state that spent millions of dollars suing the Trump administration over energy, immigration, and education while enduring comments about raking forests and denial of disaster aid.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who served 24 years in the U.S. House representing Los Angeles and has sued the Trump administration more than any other state, has been floated as a possible U.S. attorney general candidate or California’s next senator. Becerra took over as the top state law enforcer in 2016 when Harris became a senator.

California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols is retiring this year and her name has been circulating as the next possible Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Nichols has “arguably done more to cut greenhouse gas emissions than any other policy leader in the country,” Climate One Host Greg Dalton said recently.

Three of the 13 members on president-elect Joe Biden‘s Covid-19 task force are from the University of California, San Francisco.

Native Californian Julie Chavez Rodriguez, who was Harris’ traveling chief of staff during her presidential run, will be serving as director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. And more than a few members of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D)'s sanctum could also be up for spots in the administration.

“We talk in terms of abundance here in the state of California, where it’s a treasure trove of talent,” Newsom said at a recent news conference. “I would be shocked if you do not hear more announcements over the coming weeks and months.”

The state already boasts considerable congressional clout in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who would be poised to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee if Democrats win the majority. Rep. Adam Schiff chairs the Intelligence Committee, while Rep. Brad Sherman is vying to chair Foreign Affairs and Rep. Jim Costa seeks the gavel on the Agriculture panel.

Transition Priorities

The president-elect has laid out four transition priorities: Covid-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Many of those issues align with California’s agenda under Newsom.

But the state also has expertise in tax policy, health care, social justice, and the environment.

“It goes from headwinds to tailwinds,” Newsom said, describing the transition from the Trump White House to one with Joe Biden and Harris. “It is nice to have a VP from your home state.”

To be sure, California’s brand of policies aren’t popular across the U.S., and will be a hard sell in some states.

“If there is a Biden administration, California will use as much weight at possible to push its progressive agenda,” California Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove said in a phone interview Friday. “I think the rest of the nation should be worried about California influencing national policies.”

Grove and other state Republicans lambasted Newsom last week for dining out with about a dozen other people to celebrate a lobbyist’s birthday, a violation of the governor’s own pandemic directives.

Jen Psaki, who is on the transition team, said Friday the president-elect campaigned on a promise to govern for the whole country and his personnel decisions will reflect that, including selecting people from all political ideologies.

‘Impossible to Ignore’

By virtue of its sheer size and economic power, California has always been able to push its agenda, even uphill, in the case of the Trump administration.

“We do what we do because we can just do it,” said Darry Sragow, a Democrat strategist, attorney, and University of Southern California, Dornsife political science professor. “A lot of places are not like California and, frankly, a lot of places don’t like California.”

“It’s impossible to ignore California even if you want to, and you can argue President Trump has wanted to ignore California because it’s not friendly territory for him,” he added. “We’re a world leader on clean air policy, we obviously are the epicenter of technological innovation, and we’re the entertainment capital of the world. But the new administration will be a lot more receptive to what California is offering the country and other parts of the world.”

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D), who represents Harris’s hometown of Oakland, said he expects Harris’s deep knowledge of California policy to show up in multiple Biden administration policies. From expanding health care and addressing undocumented residents, to combating climate change and creating a progressive tax structure, Harris is attuned to California’s values, he said.

“Many of the things that need to get done in the United States have been done in California,” California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) said.

Some policy ideas possibly heading east:

Taxes

Under a Biden administration, California could see better alignment between federal and state tax policy, State Controller Betty T. Yee (D) said.

Biden’s plans call for increasing the top income tax rates for individuals and corporations, which is consistent with California’s progressive income tax structure, Yee said. The president-elect also calls for expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit to people older than 65 without children, which California has already done.

Biden’s proposed tax credits for renewable energy to address climate change are also a positive shift from the Trump administration, Yee said.

Yee would like to see the Biden administration press Congress to reconsider the $10,000 cap on federal income tax deductions for state and local tax payments, which has a “hugely disproportionate impact on Californians,” she said.

Health

Newsom had big plans for health care expansion in his state before the pandemic hit: state Medicaid (MediCal) eligibility for undocumented seniors, a new agency dedicated to making health care more affordable, and a state-run generic prescription drug label, among other reforms. Some of them could come back as California’s economy recovers, according to Newsom administration officials.

Biden’s health care agenda early in his term will be focused on stamping out the virus that has infected more than 11.8 million U.S. residents and killed over 253,000, Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins University data shows.

But his administration may be influenced by California’s push to make health care affordable to more people, said Erin Trish, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical and health economics at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.

“I expect [the Biden administration] will be more aligned with California’s vision for expanding health coverage and providing federal support for that,” Trish said.

Racial Equity

The Biden transition plan says the criminal justice system must be focused on redemption and rehabilitation, and must root out racial, gender, and income-based disparities. California’s legislature has a Democratic supermajority and same-party governor so reform efforts will be more challenging in Washington—but the state offers glimpses of how to head down that path.

“I think what California can teach the nation and the Biden administration is that we need to envision a new world when it comes to responses of harm and violence,” said Alicia Virani, associate director of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law.

California voters this month rejected rolling back sentencing reforms and supported restoring parolees’ voting rights. Lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring police use of force only when necessary, and required court personnel take implicit bias training.

The state this year also banned chokeholds. The technique carries a high risk of asphyxia that was at the center of killings of unarmed people of color, which prompted protests across the world.

“California and California lawmakers and voters have chosen to embrace notions of what police accountability should look like. We have further that we can go in that regard,” said Miriam Aroni Krinski, a former federal prosecutor who is the founder and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.

Environment and Energy

California has some of the worst pollution in the nation, and its efforts to improve air quality predate the EPA. The state has special Clean Air Act authority dating back 50 years to get waivers to set standards to curtail pollution. The California Air Resources Board’s mission has changed over the years to include reducing pollution and combating climate change.

That mission has often put it at odds with the Trump administration’s, which has minimized the role of climate change and sought to limit California’s authority to set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards and require sales of zero-emission vehicles.

Nichols, who has served governors of both parties, said EPA and the federal departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, and Energy all need to play a role.

“I think it’s really important to recognize, as the Biden administration is already showing, that climate action is not just about one particular law,” she said during a Commonwealth Club appearance. “In fact, there probably are 10 laws that need to be changed or passed.”

The state, under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in 2006, set the first major climate legislation in the nation with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which set greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. More recently, Newsom pledged 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035, and his predecessor Jerry Brown set a target for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.

“I think when the administration is thinking about climate change issues, they will be looking to California,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California.

The Biden administration’s expected focus on climate change and energy policy will align with California’s policies but may not be popular elsewhere, said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, which represents major Golden State employers. The business community anticipates large federal investments in renewable energy and a push to phase out fossil fuels, he said.

“It will be one of the biggest Achilles’ heels for the new administration, because the rest of the country is not there yet,” Lapsley said.

Tech and Telecoms

Sen. Scott Wiener (D) said he expects the Biden administration to be a better partner in protecting access to the internet. Wiener authored a 2018 law establishing net neutrality in California after the Trump administration rolled back federal rules from the Obama administration.

“The Trump administration could not have been worse,” Wiener said in an interview.

Wiener is hopeful the Biden administration will drop Trump’s federal court challenge to the California law, leaving broadband industry groups to continue “without the imprimatur of the federal government.” And he’ll be watching Biden’s selections for attorney general and the Federal Communications Commission for signs of interest in a strong federal net neutrality rule.

Becerra is defending the state law in federal court against arguments that federal law preempts it.

— With assistance from Courtney Rozen.

To contact the reporters on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergindustry.com; Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com; Laura Mahoney in Sacramento, Calif. at lmahoney@bloomberglaw.com; Tiffany Stecker in Sacramento, Calif. at tstecker@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com

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