Governor Gavin Newsom this week announced the West Coast is following the lead of Northeast states and developing its own roadmap to reopen the region. California, which the governor has called a “nation state,” will join with Oregon and Washington to create the Western States Pact.
The western alliance and the governor’s independent view of California counters President Trump’s recent false claim of total authority. Trump walked back his statement and now says he’ll “authorize” individual governors’ plans for reopening.
California’s bold, innovative spirit has deep roots, says William Deverell, a history professor at USC, and director of the school’s Institute on California and the West. He says that California has pushed ahead of the curve of history.
“Those kinds of intangibles also speak to a certain kind of mythic place of California in national international imagination,” he says.
The Western States Pact to reopen the area after the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time California, Oregon, and Washington have banded together.
“The Pacific Coast states did band together in moments of really horrific action,” Deverell explains. “The internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in 1942, in essence, that's a federal partnership with West Coast states. California, Oregon and Washington were home to those people who were then displaced and forcibly interned in the interior of the United States.”
In later decades, that relationship was used for projects that better served the public interest, such as fighting wildfires and environmental issues. The partnership for the post-coronavirus recovery will function in a similar way, and work almost independently of the federal government. But Deverell says this is not the mark of a fracturing between the state and the union.
“Governor Newsom no doubt knows, the federal government needs California and California needs the federal government. And so it's a taut relationship and it's sometimes a tense relationship, but it's not fractured or broken, in my view, especially in California history,” Deverell says.