Two years from now, Californians will not only be thinking about electing a U.S. senator, 53 members of Congress and a President, but most likely also about the possibility of carving up their state into six new ones.
The ballot initiative to do this is the brainchild of billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper, who observes to reporters that “bad government is not to be tolerated” and that “California is ungovernable.”
His idea of creating new states like Silicon Valley, Jefferson and West California and possibly making state capitals of places like Santa Ana, Redding and Fresno comes after many other failed efforts to rip California apart, mostly motivated by water politics or Republican frustration at living in a Democratic-dominated state.
But just as Californians for the next two years will bandy about the idea of Balkanizing their state, some may also want to consider using their state’s sheer size and scale to secede from the Union.
Granted that the last time anyone made a serious effort at something like this, a four-year Civil War resulted. But still, California takes occasional stabs at semi-sovereignty and even manages to pull some of them off.
One example is on smog, where the federal government for 44 years has let this state set rules tougher than those in force elsewhere.
California governors sometimes even broach the topic of sovereignty. Example: On a July junket to Mexico City, Jerry Brown observed that “Even though California is a mere sub-national entity, it is equivalent to the eighth largest country in the world and we intend to operate based on that…clout.”
Brown referred to gross domestic product, where California ranks just behind Brazil and Russia, but is gaining on them, and well ahead of prominent nations like Italy, India, Mexico and Argentina.
Like his predecessors going back to Goodwin Knight in the 1950s, Brown has signed international memoranda of understanding on subjects like trade, environment and tourism. But MOUs don’t have the force or standing of treaties, which a stand-alone California could make.
A sovereign California also would no longer have to pour money into the federal government’s sinkhole, getting back only about 77 cents for every dollar its taxpayers put in while the likes of Mississippi, West Virginia, Maryland and Florida get far more than a buck back in federal spending for every one they kick in.
Six Californias would give the current state 12 senators to the two it has now, guaranteeing that small states like Wyoming, Delaware and Wyoming will fight to kill this idea. They could do that if and when it comes up for congressional approval, as it must if the voters approve Draper’s idea.
A sovereign California would also avoid the pesky worries that plague the six-state idea, like how to split up the state’s universities and how to finance states like Jefferson (northern counties whose public services, including fire protection, are often subsidized by the rest of California) and Central California, which would instantly become America’s poorest state.
Right next door to the poorest state, of course, would be the richest, Silicon Valley, perhaps making the Google headquarters in Mountain View its Capitol building. That would likely be the de facto headquarters, anyway.
While there are questions about whether six new states could stay afloat financially and intellectually, there would be no such qualms about a sovereign California, which could create as many senators as it wanted.
This, after all, is the idea capital of the world, a place where world-changing enterprises from the Google search engine to Apple’s family of i-Products originate. It’s where film companies like Paramount and Warner Bros. and Disney and Dreamworks create global dreams. It’s where public universities became great and its farms feed much of the human race. As a nation, it would rank sixth worldwide in producing solar power and boast the world’s fourth-highest human development index score, while having only the 35th-highest population.
But splitting into six would create have- and have-not states with plenty of foreseeable grudges and grievances against each other.
California could avoid all that by becoming independent. Or, of course, by simply remaining a single state.