By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
The calendar has mercifully turned to 2017, leaving behind a tumultuous 2016 that will go down in history as one of America’s most trying, troubling — a year that politically was certainly one of the most shocking, for better or worse, in American history.
Few can argue that 2016 brought about a turning point in the political culture of the United States. Where that turning point will lead us is anybody’s guess.
With Donald Trump set to occupy the White House, and Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress — albeit by slimmer margins — the country’s political drift is poised to take a significant rightward shift. This places our national government at particular odds with California, the largest state in the Union with the sixth largest economy in the world.
While Republicans control Washington, D.C., Democrats are in total control of California, holding every statewide elected office and regaining supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Caught in the crossfire is California’s congressional delegation, where 41 out of 55 representatives (including our two senators) are Democrats. That includes Susan A. Davis (D-53), who was just reelected to her ninth term in Congress.
We sat down with Rep. Davis, for a conversation on an array of topics, to get her perspective on what she thinks is in store for (at least) the next two years, particularly as it pertains to San Diego. Following is the first of a two-part feature based on that interview.
As an elected member of Congress, Davis said that her (and her office’s) role is as an advocate for the community; that they “deliver for people” the federal services that are available to them.
“We make sure that when people call that we’re here to help them,” Davis said. “When people come to us, they’re usually pretty desperate. People don’t start off with their local member of Congress. It’s not the first place they go to get help, particularly here in San Diego, where we have strong numbers of people on Social Security and Medicare. We know that that’s critically important.”
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, California (and to a lesser extent, New York) has come under attack from the national political establishment, particularly the conservative wing. For many, the election served as a rebuke to our values, which are seemingly at odds with the national electorate.
In 2012, for example, Californians voted specifically to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents and to raise the state sales tax, which spread the burden across the board. Since then, California’s economy is as strong as it has ever been.
Trump and Republicans, however, ran and won — nationally — on the opposite message.
“We have to share our story,” Davis said when asked about the disparity, adding that it’s important to “make the case” about what’s worked in California.
Regarding how her colleagues in Congress view the Golden State, Davis said that it depends on whom you ask.
“A lot of people see us for the innovation state that we are and I think that they would like to see that in their own states,” she said.
Still, there’s a tangible animosity toward California that has spread across the country. Again, Davis said, we have to talk about what has worked for us.
“The other thing that we have to share with the rest of the country is ‘where would you be if you didn’t have California?,’” Davis mused. “Think of all the things California has given you. Take them all out of your house. You don’t want any California products? People would be kinda lost.”
She has a point.
Consider that California has been the center of the tech boom over the last two decades. Cell phones — Apple and their iPhone in particular — were developed in California. Google, Facebook, Twitter, many of the wines that people drink, the food that they eat, much of which also comes from here.
California, she said, has also been at the forefront of climate research, immigration reform and other important issues.
“We’ve also been at the forefront of addressing equal rights,” she said.
Davis said other communities across the country are looking for ways to improve their economic standing, and that California is in a strong position to provide advice based on our experiences here.
“We have to share what we have here, but we also have to be supportive of all the other contributions that are being made across the country,” she said.
As she previously mentioned, California has led the way on climate change policy. That position would seem tenuous with Republicans in control of Congress and Trump set to occupy the White House.
The state can, she said, protect against a national rollback of climate and environmental protections.
“But the legislature and the governor have to be on the same page,” she said.
And they are.
“There are also some things that they’re not going to be able to roll back and we have to hold them accountable,” she said, referring to the expected efforts to roll back progress made during the Obama Administration on the environment and climate change.
“[We need to] be very public. People are going to be looking to us [Congress] to be very clear about what real and what’s not” when assertions are made in contradiction to scientific evidence.
With regards to the military, which is critical to the San Diego economy, Davis said she disagrees with Trump’s assessment that today’s military is “depleted” and “not capable of facing the most dire crisis since World War II.”
Davis — along with Scott Peters (D-52) and Duncan Hunter (R-50) — sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
“We are certainly prepared to do whatever would be needed today,” she said. “Where the readiness can be better is further down the chain,” such as in the FBI and Homeland Security.
More research and development in cybersecurity is needed in order for the U.S. to be “prepared on several fronts,” she added.
Locally, Davis said the military feels good about the last budget that was passed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“Our job is to make sure what we are spending money on is appropriate,” she said. “A lot of that area is in readiness, but there are areas where we can do better.
“We can’t ignore the institutions that made them prepared,” such as education, she said.
Stay tuned to hear more from Rep. Davis in next month’s column.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.