There is little doubt about why the putative “Six Californias” ballot initiative that Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper hoped to put on the 2016 ballot failed: It was and is a terrible idea.
This measure appeared to be a shoo-in to make the next ballot for which it was eligible. Draper had almost limitless funds and put petition circulators at thousands of storefront doorways in the present California. The going rate paid to circulators can run upwards of $5 per valid signature. Draper put $5.2 million behind his measure to fracture the nation’s largest existing state.
And yet, it failed miserably. It was the worst failure in the modern era for any proposed citizen initiative with respectable financial support. Draper needed 807,615 valid voter signatures to get his measure onto the ballot. He submitted more than 1 million in June, and it became almost a foregone conclusion that his measure would qualify.
But when county election officials around the state reviewed signatures at random to see how many were valid, they concluded that only about 750,000 were really those of registered voters, the rest coming mostly from non-registered folks stopped by the circulators who signed petitions just to end the pestering.
If the reviewers’ projection had come within 15,000 of the required number, Draper would have gotten an automatic canvass of all signatures. But that won’t happen now.
Why did the entrepreneur fall short? The best guess here is that many annoyed store customers accosted by circulators had seen or read a little about the idea and realized it was no good. So – in a resounding confirmation of the merits of the initiative process – many refused to sign.
And the idea really does – did – stink. Imagine for a moment what the bidding for Tesla Motors’ new lithium ion “gigafactory” might have been like if six Californias and not just one had been involved in the competition. As it is, Nevada will pay a bribe of about $1.35 billion for the privilege of hosting this facility near Reno. What might the proposed state of Central California, home to the existing California’s proposed location in Stockton, have offered? If six Californias had become reality, Central California would have begun as America’s poorest state. Had its new officials topped Nevada’s bid and offered more than the $78,000 the Silver State will pay for each new job Tesla creates or spawns, it would be even poorer.
What might West California, home to Los Angeles, have bid? Or the desert-dominated South California?
That’s just one example of how each of these regions becoming a separate state could have hurt them all.
The reality is that Draper’s plan to fragment California – and he says he’s not giving up – is one of the goofiest, dopiest ideas ever seen in a state known for nutty schemes.
Draper says he’s motivated by a belief that the existing California is “ungovernable.” But he wants to create six sets of bureaucracies where now there is one. They wouldn’t necessarily have identical regulations, and there’s no guarantee any or all would enjoy the property tax protections of the existing Proposition 13. Or the clean drinking water assured under Proposition 65. Or the low auto insurance rates ensured by Proposition 108. Each new state would set its own rules, without regard to the others. So what could be built in the Los Angeles County city of Pomona might not be legal in nearby Chino, in San Bernardino County, for just one example.
There would also be the state of Jefferson, comprising a slew of counties in California’s northernmost region. This one would not have even one University of California campus, which could leave residents paying $36,000 a year in tuition if they attend a UC.
Anyone who thinks it’s tough to get water policy agreements from one Legislature would suddenly be faced with six. Good luck. How would any of this make the land area that’s now California easier to governable?
But Californians won’t be facing these potential problems and a lot of others anytime soon, because many had the good sense not to sign. Which is itself a sign that despite its many critics, the initiative system actually can work very well.