In Public Policy, Quirky California Often Pioneers
SAN FRANCISCO Welcome to California, the sometimes quirky rebel kingdom of the United States. Independent-minded even before it became a U.S. state, California again is setting its own rules without regard for Washington, which is nearly 3,000 miles away.
Ten days ago, state regulators set the first U.S. rules to reduce vehicle emissions linked to global warming, forcing auto makers either to redesign cars dramatically or fight the most populous state in court.
Next month, California could jump-start U.S. stem cell research if voters back a $3 billion bond for it, despite President Bush having restricted federal funding for stem-cell research involving human embryos.
Experts say the direction of the state, an economic powerhouse and home to some 35 million people, often previews the future nationwide agenda. "If you want to look at the country tomorrow, look at California today," said veteran pollster Mervin Field.
Earlier this year, San Francisco's new mayor, Gavin Newsom, helped trigger a contentious national discussion by allowing more than 4,000 gay couples to wed. The state Supreme Court ruled that he had no authority to authorize the marriages, but the issue now seems irreversibly part of the U.S. debate.
"It is at the far end of the country. It is separated by deserts and mountains from the rest of the nation. Its most recent history dating from the finding of gold in the 19th century has always made it a somewhat different place," said Philip Fradkin, author of The Seven States of California.
Schwarzenegger Signs New Laws
In recent days, California's action-star-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed hundreds of new laws, many of them pioneering on issues large and small. For example, he banned the force-feeding of ducks to make foie gras and set new curbs on cruise ships to prevent polluting near the shore.
The regulations cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in cars and trucks by up to 25 percent beginning with the 2009 model year were perhaps the most economically significant.
"It's not the first time that California, either by statute or by regulatory action, has taken steps in terms of air pollution that were ahead of the feds and almost all other states," said Tim Hodson, director of the California State University at Sacramento's Center for California Studies.
"The great thing about that is that because of the market power of California, whether you're Mercedes Benz or Ford or Toyota, you can't afford to not sell cars in California," he said of the measure, adopted on Sept. 24. "At some point it is going to be easier to do it for all the cars whether they are sold in California or Arizona."
California has pioneered health and lifestyle trends, from the fitness and bodybuilding Schwarzenegger helped popularized to the 1990s Internet boom and even the spread of hard-core pornography.
But sometimes California has trouble getting its political voice heard, as in the present presidential campaign.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry is seen winning the state easily, and so both he and Bush are virtually ignoring it, prompting a Los Angeles Times commentator to write a tongue-in-cheek article suggesting independence.
"Admit it, nationhood would be fun," Patt Morrison wrote. "We have everything we need: the world's fifth- or sixth-largest economy ... more Nobel laureates than anywhere else in the world, Yosemite, Death Valley, the Pacific, the Mojave, the redwoods, and the best wine west of Bordeaux."