It might be, as Pink Floyd put it, just another brick in the wall.
But it’s quite a wall.
Last month, huge national attention – and $10 million from all over the country – went to one state Senate race on suburban Seattle. A Democratic victory there in November switched the majority in the Washington state Senate, giving Democrats complete control of state governments across Washington, Oregon and California – creating, in a suddenly ubiquitous phrase, a blue wall along the Pacific.
Just over a year ago, of course, Democrats also thought they had a blue wall from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, which they counted on to hold firm whatever happened in Florida and North Carolina. That wishful wall’s collapse into off-blue rubble last November challenged the whole idea of load-bearing structures as a political metaphor.
But unlike that blue wall, the Pacific version is based on more than post-1992 presidential election returns – although the West Coast wall certainly qualifies for that, not casting an electoral vote for any Republican since the first George Bush. (Washington and Oregon haven’t provided one since Ronald Reagan.) Washington hasn’t elected a GOP governor since 1980 and Oregon since 1982, giving them the two longest streaks in the country. California hasn’t elected a Republican governor not named Arnold Schwarzenegger since 1994.
But this blue wall is as much about values as election returns. West Coast firmness is based on fundamental differences with Republican dogma on the natural world, the rights of individuals and attitudes toward immigrants.
The wall has stood against election campaigns. But its values are now under attack by a tax bill that cuts deductibility of state and local taxes and quietly moves against abortion rights, and government policies that prize fossil fuels and assault personal freedoms.
The week after the election, the governors of the three states attended a United Nations conference in Germany, on air quality, including a panel where they insisted that West Coast states would continue to limit greenhouse emissions despite national policy. (Washington Gov. Jay Inslee attended the official U.S. event there and denounced it as a “sideshow.”) Earlier this year, following the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris accord on global warming, the governors joined the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and Seattle reaffirming the regional commitment, declaring, “We won’t let the president’s misguided decision limit … our commitment to doing what’s right.”
The position extends a long-term emissions agreement among the three states and the province of British Columbia. The change in control of the Washington state senate could expand legislative options. Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown is planning to host his own international climate change conference in San Francisco next year.
The West Coast has a commitment to personal freedom standing firmly against an administration eagerly seeking ways to cut back abortion rights, and an attorney general who pronounces, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” The three states have some of the least constrictive abortion laws in the country, led by Oregon, which this year enacted a law requiring insurance companies to cover birth control and abortion without co-pays, with state funding covering immigrants who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
The coastal states have led the way in expanding personal rights. Washington, and Colorado, led the nation in legalizing recreational marijuana, followed shortly by Oregon and then California. Oregon was the first to legalize physician-assisted suicide, later joined by Washington and, as of last year, California.
It’s a region unwilling to take legal – or lifestyle – advice from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
As the Trump administration moves to expand deportations and crack down on “sanctuary” states and cities, the West Coast states have stood like a multicolored – or multicultural – wall. In February, Washington Gov. Inslee signed an executive order banning state employees or resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law, declaring that Washington will be a “welcoming jurisdiction.” In October, California Gov. Brown signed a bill sharply limiting state and local cooperation with federal immigration officers, a law denounced by Sessions as “unconscionable.” This year, Oregon’s legislature bolstered the state’s already strong sanctuary position, banning state officials in most situations from asking about immigration status or sharing the information with federal agencies, causing the conservative Daily Caller to attack Oregon as “the foremost ‘sanctuary state.’”
Compared with the Rust Belt blue wall that crumbled last November, the West Coast blue wall is both bluer and more of a wall. It also stands in ever sharper contrast to the aggressive policies and pressures coming from Washington, D.C.
Democrats taking control of the Washington state Senate may be just another brick in the wall.
But this wall actually stands for something.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 12/3/17.