Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Steven Greenhut
by

Sacramento

I’m not sure how Californians managed during the Legislature’s recent recess, but now that lawmakers are back at the Capitol, they are busy “fixing” the state’s pressing problems.

They will hold hearings to deal with California’s “cancer” of white supremacy. They’re fine-tuning a law that will turn the state into a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. As localities struggle to pay six-figure pensions for government workers, legislators are working on a bill that could push some counties to the fiscal brink, largely by outlawing cost-saving outsourcing.

For their part, Republicans — supposedly the opposition party — finally managed to dump Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes, who eagerly voted for the governor’s cap-and-trade extension and touts his “bromance” with the leftist Assembly speaker.

Some people I know spent the summer shopping for homes in Nevada and Arizona, given that a moving van is a simpler fix than another year of fighting losing political battles. So don’t be surprised to hear that a recurring idea is back in play again — the notion of carving up California into a number of smaller, more representative states.

It’s a Hail Mary, of course, but Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper, who previously tried and failed to place his Six Californias initiative on the statewide ballot, has pared back the idea. He has filed with the state an initiative that would create three Californias, which would be named California, Northern California, and Southern California.

Under our initiative system, it costs only $2,000 to file a measure. Most of these filings get some news attention and then fall by the wayside. It can cost $2 million to gather the requisite signatures to actually place a measure on the ballot, given that signature gathering usually is priced at $3 to $11 a name. It then can cost tens of millions of dollars to run a serious statewide campaign, given the size of California and its huge media markets.

We’ll see if this idea can get sufficient backing. And a statewide vote is only the first step in a process that ultimately would require federal approval.

Don’t get me wrong: Breaking up the state is a great idea. One of our 58 counties (San Bernardino) is geographically larger than four of the smallest states combined. Our most populous county (Los Angeles) has more people than 41 other states. Californians who live outside of the Bay Area or Greater Los Angeles have virtually no chance at anything resembling self-government.

Can this possibly happen in our lifetime? Is this latest plan the one to try?

State boundaries aren’t sacrosanct or particularly rational. Read the history of how the various states were drawn. One serious early plan for California would have taken its boundary as far east as modern-day Utah. Of course, the possibility of this particular break-up is closely connected to the sensibility of the proposed new map. If the idea causes too much of a political shake up in the U.S. Senate, there’s little chance Congress would approve it.

Don’t confuse Draper’s concept with the so-called Calexit proposals. Draper’s would give more conservative-minded Californians a chance to live in a state that more closely reflects their values. Calexit would turn California into its own country. Then it could presumably pursue Venezuela-style economic policies with wild abandon.

Calexit’s latest iteration, also filed last week with the state for a possible initiative, attempts to call a new U.S. Constitutional Convention that sets a “clear and reasonable path for states to achieve complete independence from the United States should any state so choose.” Yeah, right. This zany fantasy is good for little more than anti-Trump venting.

By contrast, Draper’s initiative argues that “California’s diverse population and economies has rendered the state nearly ungovernable” and that “vast parts of California are poorly served by a representative government dominated by a large number of elected representatives from a small part of our state, both geographically and economically.” That’s true, and is the main reason there’s little hope for fixing the situation within our current boundaries.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 2015 Arizona redistricting case likely means that the California Legislature, which would unquestionably be hostile to the Draper plan, would not need to approve the breakup. In states where “the People” reserve the right to vote on initiatives, the initiative process may substitute for legislative approval. But new boundaries would need congressional approval under the Constitution, and that could pose a sticky problem.

The new state of California would capture massive Los Angeles County and meander up the Central Coast, grabbing six liberal coastal counties with a population of more than 12 million. Voter registration is 45 percent Democrat and 29 percent Republican, so it would be misgoverned similarly to the way the current California is misgoverned.

Northern California, with just over 13 million people, would include 40 counties, many of them rural and conservative but also including the entire Bay Area and Sacramento region. It has a 39 percent to 33 percent Democratic tilt. Backers of a State of Jefferson, the ongoing effort to carve out a new state from the rural north, will undoubtedly be peeved at being saddled with San Francisco.

Southern California includes the big, more conservative Southland counties (San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino) as well as the agricultural Central Valley. This would provide Republicans with their best electoral hope among the three new states, given that the registration is evenly divided in that nearly 14 million population region. That area is trending more Democratic, so who knows how long parity would last?

From a partisan standpoint, the States Formerly Known as California would have four likely U.S. senators. But if Republicans win both Senate seats in Southern California, it would be similar to what we have today. And they’d also have a shot at occasionally picking one up in Northern California. This may favor Democrats, but there’s a mitigating factor: Republicans would have a competitive shot at 18 electoral votes in a presidential election.

“The reason that the second largest and fastest growing party in California is ‘Decline to State’ is that people are fed up with the partisan duopoly,” Draper told me. “Three Californias offers an opportunity for better education, lower taxes, and better infrastructure because the states will be able to start fresh and implement the best current solutions.”

Draper says he can raise the money. So why not try it? As his initiative explains, “efforts to divide the state have been part of its history for over 100 years.” The concept is not particularly new or radical, although we shouldn’t get our hopes too high. At least it gives us something to think about, rather than the insanity in the state Capitol. But I wouldn’t remove that Reno real-estate agent from speed dial.

Steven Greenhut
Steven Greenhut
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Steven Greenhut is a senior fellow and Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.
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