Politicians in several states this week have had a great time laughing at the latest zaniness implemented in California, and who can blame them?
“California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas,” said a spokesman for Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in a TV interview this week. Abbott’s office was responding to a ban on official state travel to such benighted places as Texas, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Alabama.
The reason for the ban? Each of those states has passed religious-liberty measures that California lawmakers say are discriminatory to the LGBT community. Three of the states (Texas, Alabama, and South Dakota) allow faith-based foster-care agencies to consider a variety of factors in placing children in homes, including whether to place them with same-sex couples.
The Kentucky law “protects religious expression in schools, including provisions on student organizations that LGBT advocates argue could allow clubs to shun prospective members based on their gender identity,” according to a San Jose Mercury News report.
Whether you agree or disagree with the laws, they don’t seem like any of our state’s business. California passes its share of laws that might offend any number of Nebraskans or North Carolinians, but we don’t see travel bans on official visits to Los Angeles or San Francisco. Federalism is a wonderful thing. Each state gets to pass laws that reflect the values of its voters.
“Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a statement announcing the addition of those four states under a law passed last year that applied initially to North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, and Mississippi. “Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century.”
That last line is key because it captures the mindset that’s prevalent among our leading officials. Democratic leaders often portray themselves as forward-thinking models for the rest of America. They seem to think the rest of the country is a racist backwater. Donald Trump’s election has caused our political leadership to double down on this thinking.
Some of the disconnect between California and the rest of the United States is understandable. Californians often think about our state as if it were a separate nation. Last year, it surpassed France as the world’s sixth-largest economy. It’s an enormous place, spanning 800 miles from the Mexican border to Oregon. Its metropolises hug the Pacific coast, so most Californians don’t interact regularly with people from other states. In fact, 27 percent of our population was born in a foreign land.
There’s no surprise about any of that, nor about our peculiar political preferences. California Democrats have supermajorities in the Legislature and control every statewide constitutional office from governor to attorney general to insurance commissioner. Californians tend to go their own way on most matters and feel little geographic or political connection to Omaha or Houston.
Our politicians have the power to implement a broad array of progressive policies here, yet they aren’t content simply imposing their highly regulated vision on the nation’s most populous state. They have a fixation on the rest of the nation, an almost evangelical need to cajole and bully other Americans into doing things our way.
It leads to half-baked policies that many Americans find inexplicable, yet come across to politicians here like statements of high-minded principle. Yet these policies that are so intent on expressing moral superiority often ignore some crucial details. State officials have every right to limit state-funded travel as they choose. Few of us will lose sleep knowing that California’s coddled government workers can’t take a trip to El Paso.
But the Mercury News raises the issue of sports teams. Apparently, Becerra has yet to issue an edict on whether University of California and California State University football squads can in the future play university teams in those other states. Meanwhile, the hypocrisy is lost on our officials. “A day after California banned state employees from going to Texas on official business, a group of politicians from the Golden State was in Dallas… for a major conference,” reported the Los Angeles Times. (One senator told the newspaper he was there on his own dime.)
When candidate Trump made a remark about a Muslim ban, California Gov. Jerry Brown was unequivocal. These types of policies promote “antagonism, hatred” and it “blows back the other way.” He said it was “pretty dumb.” Opponents of broad-based bans believe it’s wrong to punish — or at least inconvenience — individuals because of political policies in their home countries. I tend to agree.
But surely the California travel ban will create antagonism from other states, or at least a hearty share of mockery. There won’t be actual blowback, but these largely symbolic measures still seem “dumb.” Brown, by the way, wasn’t opposed to traveling this month to China — a nation that hardly is a model for human rights — to prod that country into embracing more aggressive climate-change goals.
California has mastered the politics of progressive symbolism in many areas. The state Senate recently passed a bill that would scrap our complex systems of health care and replace them with a single-payer system run by a new government agency. Even Brown was skeptical of providing “free” unlimited health care to anyone living in the state, legally or otherwise.
The legislation offered little detail on how it would accomplish this goal, but still passed the full Senate even after an Appropriations Committee report concluded such a system would cost well over three times the total state general-fund budget. Last Friday, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, a backer of a single-payer system in concept, shelved the legislation after calling the measure “woefully incomplete” and “kind of ridiculous.”
Thank goodness there’s still one adult left in Sacramento. My sense is legislators voted for the bill knowing that someone at some point would pull the plug. Perhaps there is a limit to how far California officials will take their “virtue signaling.” Legislators aren’t quite ready to destroy the entire state economy, but expect them to continue lecturing everybody else.