Berkeley Blog, Opinion

Building a Western Union

The voters of the West Coast spoke unequivocally on Nov. 8, giving Hillary Clinton 60 percent of the vote, with 7.5 million votes, to Donald Trump’s 4.5 million, or 35 percent. These voters had good reasons. A Trump presidency endangers a range of policies common to California, Oregon, and Washington.

These three states are committed to ensuring access to health care, mitigating climate change, and maintaining humane policies toward immigrant families, both documented and undocumented. From a Trump administration and Ryan-McConnell Congress, we can expect rapid federal action to eliminate health care access guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, to sell off national wilderness, forest and park land, to deregulate and encourage high-carbon fossil fuel use, and to terrorize and deport immigrant members of the community and work force.

Fears of such a political sea change have inspired a growing movement in California calling for a “Calexit” from the United States, accompanying the tens of thousands protesting in the streets. Oregonians are also initiating a ballot petition to secede from the nation. These are diversions from real action.

Secession is more impossible than unlikely, since it would require at least the equivalent of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that is, the assent of two-third of Congress and three-quarters of the states (or a civil war, as happened the last time certain states threatened to secede).

But there is a realistic way to protect the interests of the West Coast states: the leadership of the three states can form a tri-state political “Western Union,” sharing policies, markets and institutions in these areas of shared domestic interests, creating a supra-state region of progressive policy.

Thanks to our geographic contiguity, and to the Democratic legislatures and executives of all three states, we have a historic and unique opportunity to make a “blue wall” a wall that welcomes others in, while protecting our people, our environment, and our values from the demagoguery now menacing them. A Western Union would be both an internationally resonant symbol and a practical way to find strength in policy coordination, in at least the three following ways:

Health care: California, Oregon and Washington have been aggressive in implementing the Affordable Care Act through state exchanges, with more than 1.1 million people enrolled in health care through that route. While states may find individual paths to guaranteed coverage, there are likely to be substantial efficiencies in combining their health care markets, coordinating expenditures and benefit levels, and ensuring competition among health plans. (Limited state insurance markets have posed a problem in low-population states, like Oregon.) More ambitiously, the Western Union could go beyond the ACA to establish a single-payer system. Such systems, which minimize administrative costs while maximizing coverage, work best with a larger pool of beneficiaries and premium payers. Political opposition, especially at the national level, has precluded a single payer healthcare system in the United States. The common blue politics of the West Coast states makes such an ambition realizable for the first time.

Immigration: Together, the western states include about 2.2 million undocumented workers, with a total undocumented population estimated at 3.3 million. Undocumented immigrants are essential to the economy and social structure of our states. They harvest and prepare our food, tend our children, care for our sick and elderly, build and clean our houses. Many young immigrants, under DACA and state DREAM acts, are studying in our colleges and universities, developing advanced skills. A Trump policy of deportation would have catastrophic effects on our local and regional economies, and on the national food supply, as well as on the lives of the immigrants themselves, including 300,000 children. Our Blue Wall could involve a coordinated policy of non-cooperation by state and local authorities in Federal harassment and deportation efforts, extending a “sanctuary city” model to the West Coast as a whole while launching coordinated legal defenses. By means of such measures, a Western Union could delay and impede mass deportations. Meanwhile, a Western Union, all of whose members depend on a continuing inflow of skilled and unskilled immigrant workers, can work together to continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world.

Environmental protection: California has long been a national leader in environmental policy, especially with regard to climate change and the path to a low-carbon economy. Oregon and Washington have recently begun to incorporate California-style carbon emission caps and trading systems into their environmental policies, and have coordinated regulations and approaches among western cities. As with health care, environmental policy is a domain where effectiveness grows with the size of the region covered. For example, emissions controls obviously work better over larger areas. Washington-driven deregulation will inevitably accelerate global climate change. But given the size of the western economies and their own fraction of national carbon contributions, a regional commitment to maintain environmentally protective policies can make a crucial difference.

Westerners are dismayed, not to say despairing, at the damage done by a bare 27 percent of eligible American voters, and a total of about 4 million fewer than voted for Hilary Clinton. But we can do better than be dismayed. California’s political leaders have already announced their rejection of Trumpism and their intention to resist it. With Washington and Oregon, we can together show the rest of the country a more perfect union. Now is the time to build a Blue Wall, not of exclusion, but of informed stewardship, enlightened governance and unstinting humanity.