Unburdened by fact or reality, President Trump this past week vowed to investigate the mythical claim that three million people or more voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. One of the states he singled as a supposed hotbed of voter fraud was California, in effect firing the first shot in what will be a years-long fight between the Trump administration and the largest state in the union.
In California, the preparations for Trump began on the night of his election. Politicians and lawyers and activists there are set to lead the resistance to the Trump agenda from immigration and health care to climate change and education. Just as Texas played the part of chief antagonist to the Obama administration, expect California to do the same with Trump. My story is the cover of the February issue of The California Sunday Magazine and the first of more dispatches chronicling the battle between California and Trump's Washington.
The Great Exception
California vs. Trump. Part One.
The California Sunday Magazine | January 17, 2017
AFTER THE NETWORKS had called it, Kevin de León walked out onto the balcony of his suite at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for some fresh air. Darkness had settled over the city. De León was a mess — gutted, angry, confused. Back inside the suite, staffers sat hunched over their laptops monitoring election returns from around the state. As the president pro tempore of the California State Senate, de León, a Democrat, had reason to feel good about many of the results — it was possible his party would claim a supermajority in the Senate when all the votes were counted. But as someone who began his political career in the early 1990s organizing against the passage of Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant referendum, he felt a sickening sense of history repeating itself as he watched Donald Trump claim victory.
De León thought of the people in his district, a swath of Los Angeles that includes Filipinotown, Thai Town, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Little Bangladesh, and the Latino bastion of Boyle Heights. He represents one of the largest populations of Koreans outside of the Korean peninsula and one of the greatest concentrations of Central Americans outside of Central America. This was the United States he knew and believed in: welcoming, tolerant, where people of radically different backgrounds worked and lived side by side. California Democrats, he decided, had to respond to Trump’s election; they had to reassure their voters. De León reached for his cellphone.
Three hundred sixty miles to the north, Anthony Rendon, the Democratic speaker of the California State Assembly, had just left the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, where people had gathered to watch the returns. His party had won back three seats in the Assembly, reclaiming its supermajority. But the good news did little to lift the pall over Rendon. The scene at the governor’s mansion had felt like a wake. One of the few who had spoken was Governor Jerry Brown. Like most Democrats, he had expected Clinton to win. The country has seen worse, Brown told everybody. California has a strong constitution. It can protect itself.
Rendon was back in the Democrats’ war room a dozen blocks from the mansion when his phone rang. It was de León. The two men had been talking throughout the evening, and now they came up with a plan: a joint statement by the Assembly and Senate responding to Trump’s victory. The chambers rarely joined forces like that, and their leaders weren’t personally close, but both seized on the idea. Rendon drove home and typed out a few thoughts and sent them to his communications director, who forwarded them to speechwriter Dave Sebeck, asking for a draft first thing in the morning.
At 6 a.m., Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff, got into his car to drive back up to Sacramento from L.A. He stopped at a Carl’s Jr. to help with a hangover and then started making calls. As drafts of the joint statement flew back and forth between the two offices, Reeves had each version read aloud to him while he was driving the I-5. Cut that line. Too slow. Good, good, good. Rendon’s people wanted more time, but Reeves insisted the statement go out as soon as possible. The staffs settled on a final draft at 10:57. Rendon and de León signed off an hour later, and at just past noon, the two offices hit send.
The statement, released in English and Spanish, had come a long way from de León’s phone call and Rendon’s late-night riffing. But the opening line had remained intact just as Rendon had first written it: “Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land ….”