Increasingly, Washington DC seems like the place where innovative and transformative policy goes to die. From 2008 to 2010, Democrats controlled the Presidency, House and Senate and had little more than healthcare to show for it. In the first nine months 2016, Republicans have likewise held the Presidency, House and Senate and have almost nothing to brag about, having failed to even pass a partial repeal of the Democrats’ signature achievement. The years of divided government have produced few major policy moves of interest to any but the wonkiest of observers.
But the states are another matter. Conservative states like Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have been doing a fantastic job of discrediting conservative principles of governance by enacting radical anti-tax and anti-government measures to catastrophic effect. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin has been a similar disaster. By contrast, big blue states have been moving in the opposite direction with excellent results, as the booming economies of California, New York and other liberal havens attest.
This week California proved itself yet again on the forefront of innovative progressive policy with several landmark bills.
Two days ago, the Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring candidates for president to release the last five years of their tax returns. This will put Donald Trump, should he run again in 2020, in a very awkward position–especially if other states take up California’s mantle.
No less important is the Assembly’s passage of AB249, the Disclose Act, which requires radical transparency for political advertising in ballot measures. Activists for this bill have been fighting doggedly for almost a decade now against seemingly impossible headwinds, but the moment of victory finally seems nigh. Even though the current incarnation of the U.S. Supreme Court risibly holds that money is speech, at the very least citizens of California will (pending Governor Brown’s signature) be able to know who exactly is doing the talking when it comes to state ballot initiatives.
Perhaps most important is SB54, which officially makes California a “sanctuary state.” The details are complicated, but in the aggregate it means that state and local government will have broad power to refuse to work with ICE to detain and deport those guilty of non-violent and minor offenses. This will further infuriate Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, but there is little the Trump Administration can do to retaliate, as a federal judge just ruled that the federal government cannot deny grants to states based on their level of cooperation with immigration enforcement.
California cities will also likely get dramatically increased funding for affordable housing, which should help counter the crisis caused by decades of reckless and destructive conservative and neoliberal policies designed to disguise wage stagnation by turning houses into overinflated piggy banks at the expense of working families and future generations that will never afford them.
The nation’s capital is where legislative dreams go to die. But in states like California, the dream of effective and innovative public policy is still very much alive.