The latest news about California — a break-up plan touted by the leaders of Brexit — could serve as a case study of how mischaracterizations spread across the Internet, and how many media outlets echo what others have published or tweeted without apparently doing much checking.
Reports suggest that the so-called “Bad Boys of Brexit,” Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, came to Huntington Beach, Calif., where they raised $1 million for a “Calexit” plan and championed a two-state solution to our ungovernable wreck of a state.
The two were reportedly recruited by former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh to work on a break-up initiative that would slice the liberal coastal areas away from less-tony inland areas. Published maps show the new coastal state starting with Los Angeles, and lumping more conservative, urban coastal counties (Orange and San Diego) with the new eastern state.
But Baugh says Farage and Banks were in California to receive a political award and that they didn’t do any fund-raising for the effort. He struck up a friendship with the men at the Trump inauguration, and while they were in Orange County he asked them to speak to a couple of right-of-center groups, where they revved up the crowd about a partition effort floated by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper.
As I wrote in my New York Times op-ed about the visit, Draper had tried (but failed) to qualify a “Six Californias” initiative on the 2016 ballot. He told me he is eager to revive a similar effort, but said he has no specific maps in mind, and is still studying various demographic, geographic and political data.
Liberal readers harangued me for touting a “Calexit” plan that would have California secede from the United States. Never mind that I dismissed that kooky idea (reportedly pushed by a man with Russian ties), which would tear our nation asunder. But I argued that efforts to break up states are nothing new or outrageous.
It’s all about improving political representation. It’s about 800 miles from California’s Mexican border to Oregon, which is roughly the same distance from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Ala. Some of these quaint eastern states (Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut) might make respectable counties out here, but states? Is it really so odd to see why people outside of 10-million-population Los Angeles County get frustrated that their votes often amount to nothing?
There’s a lot of frustration not just in the far-north rural backwaters, but in the highly populated and agriculturally oriented Central Valley (a region larger than West Virginia) and even in the sprawling metropolises in Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties at the short-shrift local concerns receive in Sacramento.
But reading some of these letters reminded me of why Donald Trump gained so much political support in downtrodden rural regions. “With the likes of SpaceX planning Mars colonization, seems your covered-wagon utopia is out of place in California,” wrote one emailer. “Your right to be represented notwithstanding, looks like time for you and yours to sell up and get out.… Adios, and good riddance.” Yeah, why should those silly folks who do nothing important — raising cattle and crops, fishing, producing lumber and energy — hang around, if they can’t be working on space colonization?
Others see a Republican plot to disenfranchise Democratic voters. “So your idea to break up California is to put the two most populated regions of Cali into small states where the bulk of the population will have just 4 Senate votes,” opined another reader. “Then there will be four extremely sparsely populated states with 16 votes, all Republican. Go f*** yourselves.”
Actually, with the help of some number-crunchers, in 2014 I reviewed Draper’s six-state proposal. Under that proposal, three of the proposed new states would remain totally dominated by Democrats, meaning six reliably Democratic senators. Two would be highly competitive, which might lead to a 2-2 split, or a 3-1 GOP advantage. And the state of Jefferson, the far north rural state, probably would result in two Republican senators, although thanks to the big college city of Chico, that region would be less GOP-dominant than expected.
That proposal’s biggest foes would be national Republicans, who fear a Democratic gain in that one legislative body. But Draper and Co. probably will aim for a smaller number of states. Personally, I don’t care as much about the U.S. Senate as I do about the lack of representation at the state level. Surely, backers could chisel a map that doesn’t significantly alter the national political dynamic while giving Californians who live outside Los Angeles and the Bay Area a more significant opportunity for self-government.
As I wrote in the Times, “Some readers may scoff at this seemingly pie-in-the-sky notion, but state boundaries have long been fluid and even illogical. People also thought Brexit was an impossible idea. But state boundaries aren’t sacrosanct. Maybe it’s time to reduce political division by adjusting the political lines.” Or if it’s not yet time for action, maybe it’s time to discuss this thought experiment — at least in a misgoverned mega-state such as California, which continues to lose its most industrious, tax-paying residents to states that are less hostile to enterprise.
And it is always time to stay focused on the facts: Breaking up the state is not the same thing as seceding from the union. There’s still no map in play, but some serious, well-connected Californians are indeed raising money for a run at the ballot. However accurate the reports, I’m thrilled that the Farage and Banks visit has jump-started this debate.