This month, a ballot initiative to divide California into three states qualified to be on the November ballot. One state (still called California) would include the Central Coast and Los Angeles; a new state of Northern California would include the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and everything to the north; and a new state of Southern California would include Fresno, Bakersfield, the southern Sierra Nevada, the rural area east of the Sierras, the Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego.
As I’ve said before (here, here, here) I have mixed feelings these days about my home state. And on the surface, this three state plan doesn’t look like a very good idea. Looking at voter trends and recent elections, we would be replacing one liberal state with two liberal states and a swing state that has been trending more liberal recently (with Southern California being the swing state). It also seems like some of the regions that would be in the same state after this split have little in common. This plan puts Salinas and Los Angeles in the same state, Fresno and San Diego in the same state, and San Francisco and Redding in the same state.
It should also be noted that any plan to create a new state would also have to be approved by the federal Congress. Also, the Constitution says that no new state can be formed within the boundaries of an existing state without the approval of that state’s legislature, and some have questioned whether a ballot initiative approved by the voters counts as approval by the state legislature. Ballot initiatives did not exist in 1787 when the Constitution was written, and this kind of thing has never happened before. If I remember right, only two states have ever been created from territory already part of existing states: Maine, in the 1820s, whose statehood was part of an extensive compromise to kick the question of slavery down the road; and West Virginia, created during the very unique and extreme situation of the Civil War, by Union loyalists in the mountains after Virginia left the Union.
There has been a movement off and on dating to the 1940s to create a new State of Jefferson in far northern California; historically, the movement also included parts of rural southern Oregon, although the more recent Jefferson movements are much more active in California than in Oregon. I would support a State of Jefferson, and if it happened I would seriously consider moving there. The rural parts of far northern California have a very different culture than the rest of California, and the rest of California pretty much only wants them because they have water. But this current plan is not Jefferson. This current plan lumps Jefferson into the same state as the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Jefferson conservative voices will be drown out by liberals, just as they are now.
Here is what needs to happen: some kind of convention where delegates from all over the state sit down and spend a minimum of several days, probably more, hashing out very specific details of how to split the state. How many new states? What are the new boundaries? How would the water be divided up? Would any of the new states be entitled to any water stored in reservoirs in a different new state? Would any existing counties be split, or would county lines stay the same such that each county only ends up in one new state? Would any state parks need to be split? Would any of the new states owe each other money for any of the infrastructure that is or isn’t in their new state? Would there be a grace period under which residents of pre-split California will get in-state tuition at all of the public universities that existed in pre-split California, whether or not they end up in the same state after the split? (I haven’t read the text of the proposed plan, so I don’t know how many of these details have been spelled out explicitly at this point.)
Before any plan goes to the voters, or to Congress, all of these details need to be worked out. And everyone needs to realize that no new state or subculture is going to get everything they want. It will take some give and take among all parties involved, just like the drafting of the United States Constitution did. This won’t be perfect, but if something like this does happen, it is the best way to end up with something that will be somewhat better than what we have now.
I don’t have a lot of faith that this will happen, though. The kind of people who are in power in California don’t want to do anything to give up that power. And, let’s be honest, the different subcultures within California really don’t like or respect each other, so they aren’t likely to want to make any compromises or concessions. The liberal populated areas of California kind of hold all the cards here. If you were to tell someone from, say, San Francisco that there is a people group who are not represented in their government, and that their government oppresses them and steals their natural resources, the San Franciscan would most likely be on the side of increased autonomy for that people group. But then when they find out that this people group is gun-carrying conservatives from Jefferson, all of a sudden the San Franciscan may say that they don’t deserve autonomy, because they need enlightened liberal San Franciscans to force them out of their backward ways. The only substantial thing Jefferson really has is water, and since the dams and canals were built by California, Jefferson can’t really cut off Los Angeles from taking their water without starting a violent conflict. I really don’t want it to come to that.
The big question for me, however, is do I vote for this three state plan? It isn’t perfect, I don’t know that I’d even call it good, but is it better than the mess we have now? I really don’t know. It’s something I’ll be thinking about. And I’ll have to at least skim the text of the proposal.