Could Trump Pop The West Coast's Liberal Bubble?

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Nov. 22, 2016 11:25 p.m.

In November’s election, Republicans around the country won big up and down the ballot. But wins for conservatives were far fewer here on the West Coast, where voters largely doubled down on progressive policies and candidates.


Washington voters decided to increase the minimum wage. California joined the Pacific Northwest in legalizing recreational marijuana. And Oregon elected Democrat Kate Brown: the first openly bisexual governor in the country.

“From a state perspective it was a great night, but nationally really crazy night,” said Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, a Democrat, who several years ago became the first openly gay woman in the country to lead a state house.

For a generation, the West Coast has been the nation’s epicenter of progressive politics. In California, Oregon and Washington, the left-leaning, largely urban voting bloc has long dominated elections, handing victory after victory to Democrats. Voters have advanced a liberal agenda that’s supported taxes on soda, plastic bag bans, and right-to-die laws.

Related: Smaller Groups Continue To Protest President-elect Trump In Portland

But with the election of Donald Trump, progressive leaders are concerned his administration could pop the long-standing liberal bubble.

Under a Trump administration, Kotek expects a resurgence of state control and innovation at the local level. Rather than looking to Washington, D.C., Kotek said she anticipates the relationship between Salem, Sacramento and Olympia to deepen during Trump’s presidency.

“The change for Oregon, and I think California and Washington, is that now we are those states in the nation that are going to be doing things differently,” Kotek said.

Already, she said, leaders on the West Coast have worked together on issues like raising the minimum wage and climate change.

The incoming Trump administration appears to be gearing up for a showdown over immigration with states. President-elect Trump campaigned on cutting federal funding for communities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers.

“We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” Trump said repeatedly during the campaign.

The West Coast is dotted with “sanctuary cities.”


Since the election, leaders in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have said they will protect immigrants, regardless of the consequences.

Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler said he’s asked immigration attorneys to see if there’s anything that can be done to strengthen the safeguards already in place.

Related: Portland Mayor-Elect Says He'll Shield Immigrants From Deportation

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told Southern California Public Radio it’s up to the federal government to enforce its immigration laws.

“Immigration is not the job of local law enforcement,” Beck said. “It is the job of the federal government and they should do their job and they should not rely on me to do it for them.”

Clearly, the hope among many West Coast progressives is that the federal government will continue to leave them alone. Todd Donnovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University, said the fear is the Trump administration won't.

“How much will they let Seattle and Portland and San Francisco continue to pursue those sort of progressive local policies? Or how much are they going to come in and try and use the weight of the federal government to stop that?” Donnovan said, pointing to things like immigration and recreational marijuana.

“We’ve expected the federal government to just kind of turn and not look at that, but those are all up in the air right now,” he said.

For some, looking at the West Coast as one big progressive region fully opposed to Trump is an oversimplification.

“Washington state is not blue,” said Matt Manweller, a Republican member of the Washington House. “There’s one big blue dot of which 80 percent of the state is red. Oregon’s the same way.”

Manweller represents the 13th legislative district, just north of the Tri-Cities, and teaches political science and Constitutional Law at Central Washington University.

He said some good has come out of this divisive election cycle.

“I’ve had more liberal Democrats come to me and say, ‘Talk to me about your world. I obviously don’t walk in it and I don’t understand it,'” Manweller said. “That has actually started some very powerful conversations that could lead to some form of compromise.”

After the election, President Obama called on people to give Trump a chance to govern.

But in cities along the West Coast, fears of what’s to come have led to an unceasing series of protests about what Trump’s election means for one of the most consistently progressive parts of the country.