The proposed Six Californias initiative died last fall, a victim of the weaknesses in its own concept and so much skepticism that even a $5 million petition circulating campaign wasn’t enough to get it onto the 2016 ballot.
But this doesn’t mean innovative and quirky – some might call it imaginative or fatuous – thinking about changes in this state’s future status has stopped.
Next up, apparently, will be a move toward a somewhat more sovereign California, maybe not a completely separate nation-state, but at least an entity capable of making its own binding deals with other countries and able to pass laws that could not be overturned by either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court.
A start in this direction comes now from an outfit called Sovereign CA, headed by Louis Marinelli, a 28-year-old teacher of English as a second language on the San Diego campus of Alliant International University.
“We’re dissatisfied with the federal government and we think we can do things better,” says Marinelli. “The world is changing around us and we can change, too, as the world does. But it’s not a good idea to do things in a rush. This would be a big change, so we would do this gradually over many years or even decades.”
There is no doubt Marinelli & Co. got a bit of a boost from an October poll by Fox News that found 17 percent of Americans would like to throw at least one state out of the Union. In that survey, 53 percent wanted to get rid of California, far more than the 23 percent who would like to oust No. 2 New York and the 20 percent itching to dump Texas.
Marinelli, who can’t say how many members his group has because it charges no dues – but reports getting more than 2,600 Facebook “likes” – hopes to put three initiatives before the voters in 2016 to get started toward semi-sovereignty.
One would set up a method for Californians to vote on whether to officially rebuke the federal government via something like a vote of no confidence. “This would be a first-in-the-nation kind of vote,” Marinelli said. It would task a new state commission with writing a letter to the President and both houses of Congress expressing California’s disapproval and lack of confidence in their ability to govern the country. Of course, any such letter would go straight to the round file.
A second proposed measure would set up a nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel of state legislators to analyze how “sub-national sovereignty” might work and its effects on Californians and other Americans. The group would have to hold hearings and call experts to testify on how California could sign its own treaties with foreign countries and otherwise assert itself internationally – while still using the United States dollar and having its citizens register with Selective Service and serve in the American military. The idea of making binding agreements with other countries is something recent California governors like Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger have liked. Both have signed so-called “memoranda of understanding” with other countries and their provinces, but none has had much long-term meaning because they lack the status of treaties.
This group would take up questions like whether California should give up participating in presidential elections or revert to something like the not-quite-statehood status Puerto Rico has today.
The third Sovereign California initiative would be completely symbolic, calling for state’s Bear Republic flag to be displayed at equal height with the Stars and Stripes on all public property.
Taken together, it’s barely the beginning of a sovereignty movement and a far cry from a call for secession. That’s the way Marinelli and friends like it.
“We’re not pursuing actual separation from the rest of America,” he said. “It’s more like sub-national sovereignty, something like Scotland has within the United Kingdom, with a lot of autonomy, but still within the national system.” One difference: Sovereign California wants at least to explore taking the state out of national elections and even give up its representation in Congress.
Meanwhile, Scotland has full representation in the British Parliament and the Scottish economist Gordon Brown was prime minister as recently as 2010.
All of which makes various possible forms of sovereignty for California fun to look into, but about as unlikely to happen as Six Californias.