A plan to split California into multiple states – which was until recently widely regarded as a Quixotic quest with little chance of success – is finally starting to look like it could become a reality. Case in point: This week, the campaign’s backers managed to get their “radical” vision, which would divide California into three independent states, placed on the Nov. 6 ballot, according to the Los Angeles Times. Clearing this hurdle means the measure is posing the biggest threat to California’s unity in its 168-year history, Though it’s hardly the first attempt to break up the massive state: Since California was admitted to the US on Sept. 9, 1850, it has survived more than 200 breakup movements – or secede from the US entirely. The most recent attempt, spearheaded by a Butte County lawmaker, failed in 1993.
The initiative made it to the ballot because organizers like Draper managed to collect more than 400,000 valid signatures – enough to qualify the measure for the ballot. However, even if a majority of California voters agree with the organizers of the campaign – a group that includes Venture Capitalist Tim Draper – its success in November would only mark only the beginning of the legal wrangling that would be required before the state can officially be broken up.
If ultimately successful, the partition of California would be the first breakup of a US state since the depths of the Civil War in 1863, when West Virginia was separated from Virginia.
Tim Draper, courtesy of the Associated Press.
As it stands, if it succeeds at the polls, Draper and his team would start by invoking Article IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution – the provision explaining how existing states can be divided into new states. But the plan would ultimately likely require approval from both chambers of the California legislature, as well as an act of Congress, according to Bloomberg and the LAT.
Nothing about Draper’s historic demarcation of democracy would be easy. Were voters to approve his ballot measure, the effort would need the blessing of both houses of the California Legislature — lawmakers who, in a sense, would be asked to abandon their posts. Draper’s proposal says the initiative, acting under California’s constitutional power of voters to write their own laws, would serve as legislative consent. It is almost certain that interpretation would end up in court.
From there, the plan would need congressional approval. Here, too, politics would presumably play a major role.
Where California now has two seats in the 100-person U.S. Senate, the three states would have six seats in a 104-member chamber. That would dilute the power of other states and increase the power of what used to be a single state if its six senators banded together on various issues.
Here’s an outline of the plan from a document submitted by Draper to the office of California’s attorney general. In it, Draper argues that, because of the state’s population and “other socio-economic factors”, the state has become “nearly ungovernable”, adding that vast swaths of the state are “poorly served by a representative government dominated by a large number of elected representatives from a small part of the state.”
(b) The boundaries of the three (3) new states shall be as follows:
(1) A new state, named Northern California, or a name to be chosen by the people of that state, shall include the territory represented by the boundaries of the following forty ( 40) counties: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba.
(2) A new state, named California, or a name to be chosen by the people of that state, shall include the territory represented by the following six ( 6) counties: Los Angeles, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
(3) A new state, named Southern California, or a name to be chosen by the people of that state, shall include the territory represented by the following twelve (12) counties: Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Tulare.
Here’s what the new states would look like:
Initially, Draper and his backers had proposed a plan to split California into six states, but changed it to three late last year.
Map courtesy of NBC Bay Area
Draper told the LAT that three states will lead to improved education and lower taxes.
“Three states will get us better infrastructure, better education and lower taxes,” Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who sponsored the ballot measure, said in an email to The Times last summer when he formally submitted the proposal. “States will be more accountable to us and can cooperate and compete for citizens.”
Draper’s effort is also facing competition from the so-called “Calexit” proposal, a highly publicized effort to secede from the union, which its backers hope to see on the ballot in 2020.
The plan would also likely face heated resistance from both of the two major political parties in the US. As Bloomberg points out, Republicans in Washington would be wary of creating more solidly blue states, and Democrats are worried that they could give Republicans an opening in Northern or Central California, according to the LAT.
Presidential politics also could doom the proposal once it reached Washington. Vikram Amar, a law professor who has written extensively about Draper’s plans, pointed out last fall that the shift in California’s votes in the Electoral College – which have been awarded for a quarter-century to Democratic nominees – would be split between three states. And one of those states, based on past election results, could be won by a Republican.
Amar wrote that Democrats would be “very reluctant to run the risk” of supporting the proposal in Congress. “And risk aversion looms large in these matters, which helps explain why no new states have been added to the United States in over 50 years, and no new state has been created out of an existing state for more than 150 years,” he wrote.
The plan hasn’t received the enthusiastic support of the conservative communities located in northern California. Indeed, many see moving to Texas as a more viable option than being lumped in with the liberal Bay Area – a situation that would probably leave them in the same situation, where their political voice is stifled by the larger numbers of people living in the extremely progressive cities to their south.
There’s also the question of whether a ballot initiative is an appropriate way to begin the process of reviving the state’s constitution.
There also is a sizable debate about whether such a sweeping change can be created through a ballot initiative — that is, whether it rises to the level of a “revision” of the California Constitution, which can only be instigated by the Legislature or by a formal constitutional convention. Revisions, Amar wrote in 2017, are generally seen by the courts as the most substantial kinds of changes to a government.
“What is of greater importance to a state than its geographic boundaries?” Amar wrote. “As the national debate about a wall along the Mexican border rages, we are reminded that even in a digital age, physical space and physical lines matter immensely to the course of peoples’ lives, and the legal regimes under which they live.”
But the biggest reason why lawmakers would probably resist this type of breakup? It could lead to complicated negotiations over the division of natural resources like water – already a contentious topic in modern-day California.
Critics have long wondered how citizens of a state where the majority of water supplies exist in one region would react if negotiations over new interstate compacts to share the resource turned contentious.
Still, Draper should at least get credit for acknowledging that there’s a problem. California alone has what would be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but the state has achieved this in spite of its inept, dysfunctional government, high taxes, weak public education system and myriad other problems. But given the entrenched nature of the status quo – and looming battles over access to water that the state will likely face the state in the near future – perhaps moving to Texas really is the most practical solution for residents who are sick and tired of living in such a dysfunctional state.
Finally, to inject a little humor (or not), for most Californians, these are the real ‘states’ of the state…
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