Six Californias for the price of one is worth talking about

by Steve Blum • ,

U.S. Independence Day seems a fitting time to consider Californian independence, of a sort. An initiative to split California into six new states is gathering signatures, aiming for a November vote. It declares California to be “ungovernable” and sets out a process for asking the U.S. congress to chop the state up into more tractable bits.

A considerable sentimental attachment to the Golden State aside, I like living in a state that’s one of the ten largest economies in the world: it’s a useful counterweight to also being a federal unit of the biggest economy. Six smaller states might have greater representation in the U.S. senate but it would still require teamwork for those extra congresscritters to be of any use. It would be easier for smaller states to go their separate ways on particular issues, but there’s no guarantee that the results would seem any better from an individual perspective. Not much of an upside, although on the whole we wouldn’t be any worse off.

Nevertheless, I’ve signed the petition to put the measure on the ballot, because I think it would lead to a useful discussion. California is increasingly fracturing along an east-west/rich-poor divide and the initiative would force a debate on fundamental issues regarding how we see ourselves and how our state is governed. Or not.

The initiative itself poses no danger of practical result, for several reasons…

  • Arguably, it’s a major revision to the constitution, rather than a simple amendment. Revisions need approval from the legislature as well as voters.
  • Constitutional amendments can only address a single subject, and a clause in the initiative devolving power to counties whether or not Congress grants the request is really a separate question. The California supreme court has tossed past voter-approved amendments for smaller transgressions.
  • The initiative, oddly, inserts the critical language into a statute, rather than a constitutional article. Which leaves it at the mercy of the legislature and opens the door to further court challenges.
  • The U.S. congress will unite in a bipartisan spasm of disgust, in instant recognition of an existential threat to the ruling elite. No hope there.
  • The backers picked really stupid names for 5 of the 6 proto-states. Trimming off the far northern counties and calling it Jefferson was a no-brainer, even for them – that name has history behind it. But lumping together the Monterey and most of the San Francisco bay areas and calling it Silicon Valley? By that logic, they should have called the new state in the L.A. area Hollywood, instead of West California (which, by the way, is east of most of the others). Which are called, variously, Central, South and North California, in complete disregard of Californian history, culture and style. On that basis alone, they deserve to lose.

But so what. It’s a conversation we need to have, and the only way to get it is to put something so disruptive on the table that the Californian political class dares not ignore it. If it gets on the ballot, they will respond with all the high solemnity, phoney gravitas and apocalyptic damnation that the catholic church reserves for an outbreak of Jediism within its flock. May the Force, and the Fourth, be with us.