Politics

California is itching to take on Trump. Here are the prominent figures leading the charge

California’s leaders have reacted to Donald Trump’s win with a clamor of opposition, an adversarial stance that echoes Texas’ combative posture under President Obama

But within the overarching hostile tone, the dissent from the nation’s most populous state, which sided decisively with Hillary Clinton in  the Nov. 8 presidential election, has come in several forms: carefully calibrated messages of tepid cooperation, outright declarations of defiance and Twitter brawls.

Beyond the state’s representatives in Washington — including Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris — the roster of Trump antagonists in California is a lengthy one. Here’s a field guide to the Californians on the front lines in the state’s brewing battle with the incoming president.

The six California congressional members most likely to help, or hinder, the Trump administration »

The state officials

The state’s highest-profile defender is Gov. Jerry Brown, whose initial comments on Trump emphasized national unity and a wait-and-see attitude about the incoming administration. But the governor has since ratcheted up the rhetoric on climate change, Brown’s signature issue and one where he and Trump share little common ground.

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle — and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that,” Brown said Wednesday in an address to climate scientists.

Los Angeles Rep. Xavier Becerra, Brown’s pick to be the new state attorney general, who would replace Harris as she moves to the Senate, would be the state’s point person to challenge the Trump administration in court, pending an all-but-certain confirmation by the Legislature. So far, however, Becerra’s talk about Trump has notably lacked bombast.

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, Brown's nominee for California Attorney General, during a news conference in Sacramento.
Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, Brown's nominee for California Attorney General, during a news conference in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

"We won't shy away from representing and defending what we stand for as Californians," Becerra told reporters last week. "But we're not out there to pick fights."

More aggressive has been Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who oversees California’s elections. Padilla was quick to issue a series of public statements condemning Trump’s advisors and cabinet picks, as well as the president-elect’s unfounded allegation of widespread voter fraud in California.

If Trump’s positions are “contrary to the policies we’re pursuing in California or are harmful to the state or the nation, we’ll challenge him every step of the way,” Padilla said in an interview. 

Meanwhile, leaders of California’s higher education system have urged Trump to allow students who were brought to the country illegally as children to continue their studies without fear of deportation. 

California has more than 200,000 people who have applied for deportation protections under an Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, more than any other state. 

UC System President Janet Napolitano, who signed the directive when she served as Homeland Security secretary under Obama, has become a vocal proponent of maintaining DACA, penning a New York Times op-ed in which she called the reasoning behind the policy “careful, rational and lawful.”

The lawmakers

Starting with a fiery joint statement just hours after Trump won the presidency, California’s top Democrats in the Legislature — Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon — have struck a decisively defiant anti-Trump tone

“Californians do not need healing. We need to fight,” Rendon said in a combative speech at last week’s ceremony swearing in new legislators, injecting a bellicose note into a typically cheery affair.

Legislative leaders have staked out immigration as the first battleground. De León has introduced a measure that would bar state and local resources from being used to aid federal immigration officials in deportations. 

In announcing the bill, SB 54, De León vowed that California would be “the wall of justice” for people in the country illegally if the federal government ramps up deportations.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has also proposed several early measures in a preemptive rebuke to Trump, including SB 30, which would stymie construction of a wall along the California-Mexico border and SB 31, which would prohibit the state from sharing information to a federally compiled registry of Muslims in the United States, a proposal Trump and his advisers have floated.

Other proposals would commit state dollars to defend people without legal immigration status against removal from the U.S. One bill, SB 6 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), who chairs the Legislative Latino Caucus, would provide funding for legal services for those in deportation proceedings. Another proposal, AB 3 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), would fund immigration law training for public defenders.

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, third from left, flanked by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Len, D-Los Angeles, right, and other Democratic lawmakers, discusses a pair of proposed measures to protect immigrants, during a news conference in Sacramento.
California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, third from left, flanked by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Len, D-Los Angeles, right, and other Democratic lawmakers, discusses a pair of proposed measures to protect immigrants, during a news conference in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

The contenders

The shades of anti-Trump stances are also coloring the next marquee political showdown in California: the 2018 governor’s race.

Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and earliest entrant to the field, has been an unabashed Trump detractor, needling the president-elect on social media, a fitting venue for the Twitter-friendly Trump.

https://twitter.com/GavinNewsom/status/799654735032696832

“I don’t think it’s time to be timid — at all,” Newsom told reporters on Wednesday. “I take him quite literally in terms of what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to go about doing it. And if you do take him literally, then there is only one response, and that is to prepare for an assault on environmental protections, on immigrant rights, on people’s health and welfare, and not wait to respond to it.”

Fellow Democrat and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officially jumped into the race just two days after Trump won the presidency, framing his gubernatorial bid as a contrast to the incoming Republican president. In an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee last week, Villaraigosa called on Western governors and California mayors to unite to form “a breakwater against the tide of Trumpism.”

A third Democratic contender, state Treasurer John Chiang, has been relatively muted in his response to the election, a contrast to last summer when he called California Democrats Trump’s “worst nightmare.”

But the low-profile Chiang was cited in the New Yorker as a possible example of how to push back against Trump from inside the government. In 2008, Chiang, who was then state controller, refused to implement an order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to slash state worker pay. He said his takeaway from the standoff was that those inside government should follow their conscience. 

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer has toyed with a gubernatorial run, although he said Trump’s unexpected win had made him reconsider his plans. In an interview with The Times, he said his initial aversion to Trump has only hardened with the president-elect’s actions.

“What we’ve seen so far in terms of both behavior and nominations has fulfilled every one of our expectations and fears,” Steyer said.

Regardless of his future ambitions, Steyer said he plans to continue opposing Trump through a “citizens’ coalition,” marrying grassroots work, voter registration and other political organizing.

The locals

Preparing for battle against the Trump administration extends far beyond Sacramento. In California’s major cities, local officials have struck their own anti-Trump positions.

In Los Angeles, City Council members have explored hiring an immigrant advocate to shield residents from deportations. Police Chief Charlie Beck said he had no plans to change his department’s stance on immigration enforcement, in which officers do not turn over to federal authorities those arrested for low-level crimes.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn have proposed a $1-million legal aid fund to help immigrants in the country illegally, according to LA Weekly.

In Northern California, San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi has proposed a $5-million unit in his department to defend immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.

And earlier this month, the city of Santa Ana voted to become a sanctuary city to protect those without legal immigration status — a largely symbolic measure that nevertheless underscored the dramatic demographic changes underway in what used to be a stronghold for California Republicans.

Speaking of the GOP, the most compelling figure on the local level to watch could be San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who did not support Trump’s campaign.

Post-election, Faulconer has urged unity, saying of Trump at a Los Angeles Times event, “he’s our president — we have to come together now.”

But Faulconer also did not shy away from touting his city’s close economic relationship with Mexico. If Trump follows through on his promise to impose tariffs on goods imported from Mexico, a move that could have significant repercussions for San Diego’s economy, Faulconer’s role as a pro-trade GOP mayor of a major border city may end up giving Trump some significant heartburn. 

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The techies

California’s politicians have so far been the most enthusiastic in seizing the anti-Trump megaphone. But Silicon Valley may also find itself in conflict with the new administration.

In his highly anticipated summit with tech leaders on Wednesday — organized by billionaire investor and Trump ally Peter Thiel — the president-elect lavished praise on the executives as a “truly amazing group of people,” even though the industry was largely  opposed to his campaign.

But there are early signs of ruptures in Trump’s relationship with Silicon Valley. Twitter and Facebook have publicly stated they would not assist in building a registry of Muslims in the United States.

And while executives have been relatively mum on Trump since his win — a silence that tech journalist Kara Swisher excoriated in a recent column — prominent investors such as Chris Sacca and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman have continued to voice their full-throated criticisms on social media and, in Hoffman’s case, an anti-Trump card game.

melanie.mason@latimes.com

Follow @melmason on Twitter for the latest on California politics.

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