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California relishes role as liberal trendsetter, Trump foe

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Democrats who rule California took on homegrown tech giants Uber and Lyft over their workforces, convinced some of the world’s biggest automakers to buck the president on fuel emissions and passed a law that could change college sports nationwide.

On issues big and small — hotels soon will be forbidden from providing guests with little plastic shampoo bottles — California this year has marched further left and tried to pull the rest of the country with it.

The state, given the virtual irrelevance of its Republican Party, is pushing the boundaries of liberal policy, forcing Democrats to draw their own lines on the role of government, corporate responsibility and social policies.

America’s most populous state (nearly 40 million people) and home to the world’s fifth largest economy (about $3 trillion), California has long used its weight to set trends. But that role has crystallized in the Trump era, with the state emerging as the nation’s defense system against rollbacks of environmental and health care laws and the federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump, meanwhile, has pointed to California as a cautionary tale for the rest of the nation, casting it as a failed state of homelessness and intrusive government.

“They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell,” Trump told reporters last month after traveling to California to raise money for his re-election campaign.

The leader of the alternative universe is Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The charismatic first-year governor relishes being a Trump adversary and chief of a state that does things before others. Just ahead of the Oct. 13 deadline for him to act on bills, Newsom signed first-in-the nation laws requiring public universities to provide abortion medication on campuses, banning the sale and manufacture of fur products, and mandating a later start time for high schools so students could get more sleep.

“(Trump) has forced us to, I think, either roll over or to assert ourselves and lead,” Newsom said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I think it’s more interesting not just responding and reacting to Trump and Trumpism, but pushing the envelope and moving our agenda and our values forward and promoting them across the country.”

Trump lost California by a wide margin in 2016 and has essentially no shot of winning there next year. He’s visited several times to tour disaster zones or raise money since he won the presidency, but the state is a far more popular destination for Democrats looking to collect campaign cash from tech and Hollywood donors.

Democrats hold a super-majority in the Legislature, both U.S. Senate seats, 46 of California’s 53 U.S. House seats and all statewide offices.

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