We Californians have been pretty smug about it for years now — even decades. But it all may be coming to an end.
I’m talking about our laws addressing climate change, the way we treat animals, consumer protections and workplace safety — you know, all that effete left-coast stuff.
We’ve congratulated ourselves on how advanced, far-seeing, humanitarian and generous we are. We didn’t seem to know, or care, that the California approach to issues was resented by those in other parts of the country (read: Republicans) who thought it was all profit-eating nonsense.
Now, they’re mounting an attempt in Washington to gut California laws that we think are splendid and they think are anti-bidness.
Chief among them is a California law that protects consumers from toxic chemicals. A bill in Congress would strengthen federal law on the issue (hooray!) but in so doing would overrule California’s stricter law. Federal law preempts state law. But you know that.
“… Republicans have taken up the argument that they need to curb such regulatory trailblazing to protect the rights of other states, particularly deep-red ones that don’t want their industries faced with either following California’s rules or being cut off from the country’s biggest market. They argue that the state’s regulations have gotten more aggressive. State officials say a more conservative Republican Party now puts business interests ahead of protecting states from Washington’s authority,” the estimable Evan Halper tells us in the (still mighty) Los Angeles Times.
The view from Sacramento, Westside Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area has pretty much always been that those ill-educated, ill-informed, obese primitives living in large portions of the South and Midwest have their quaint customs and folkways. They pursue their native dances, eat their simple foods and seek to preserve their ancient legends. We tsk, tsk, the way a missionary would do upon meeting tribes in the backwaters of New Guinea, but unlike the missionaries, live and let live, that’s our motto.
Now, the primitives are taking advantage of gridlock and Republican control of the House and are setting off on a crusade to override, among other things, California laws prohibiting the sale of eggs from hens who are confined to narrow cages. They also don’t like this nonsense about banning the sale of foie gras because it’s cruel to geese. And phasing out inefficient light bulbs? Please.
It’s all hard on profits, you see. You can make much more money destroying the environment, harming animals and harming people than you can by paying attention to the environment and decency.
A bill by the late Democratic(!) Sen. Frank Lautenberg and David Vittner, who is a Republican from that environmental paradise known as Louisiana, would override California law on toxic chemicals. It goes by the knee-slapper title of the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act.”
If you were a political scientist you might say, “What about the traditional Republican regard for states’ rights in the face of an overweening federal government? California is a state, remember?”
To which the Party of No would reply, “What are you talking about? This has to do with profits. Never mind the damn geese and the damn chickens and fancy-ass light bulbs and this idea that chemicals used by Americans may not always be good for you. States’ rights are fine when it comes to putting obstacles in the way of undesirable voters, but not when it comes to profits. What are you, anyway, a Muslim?”
There may be hope of salvaging something from the red onslaught. Sen. Barbara Boxer, that stalwart California liberal, chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, after all.
Rep. Jared Huffman, whose district is based in deep blue Marin, summed it up nicely for the Times’s Halper:
“I have a state that wants to set the bar higher. On human health, on animal cruelty, on all sorts of things. The federal government should be supporting that. But there are some industries that are on a race to the bottom.”
McFadden, who molded public opinion as a reporter for The Associated Press more years ago than he likes to think about, is the author of “Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown” recently published by The University of California Press.