Another Stupid and Forgettable Trend From California — Splitting It Into 3 States

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LOTS OF NEW IDEAS come out of California, and although some are revolutionary and game-changing, a lot of them are just stupid and dumb.

This idea easily qualifies as one of the latter.

Here it is, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

California’s 168-year run as a single entity, hugging the continent’s edge for hundreds of miles and sprawling east across mountains and desert, could come to an end next year — as a controversial plan to split the Golden State into three new jurisdictions qualified Tuesday for the Nov. 6 ballot.”It

If a majority of voters who cast ballots agree, a long and contentious process would begin for three separate states to take the place of California, with one primarily centered around Los Angeles and the other two divvying up the counties to the north and south. Completion of the radical plan — far from certain, given its many hurdles at judicial, state and federal levels — would make history.

It would be the first division of an existing U.S. state since the creation of West Virginia in 1863.”

Describing this plan as “far from certain” is an understatement of massive proportions.

“It will cause chaos and cost a bundle”

The man behind this ballot measure — a rich Silicon Valley guy by the name of Tim Draper — is long on dollars but terribly short on rational thinking about the enormous number of hurdles that stand in the way of making it actually happen.

As the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times put it: “The only thing certain about breaking up California is that it will cause chaos and cost a bundle.”

It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

Curbed SF did a great job breaking down those hurdles. Here are the biggest ones that they detailed:

  • Can we really do this? Technically yes, although it’s a triple long shot. Assuming voters go in for the three Californias plan, Article 3, Section IV of the U.S. Constitution specifies that Congress would have to approve the bid and the president would have to sign off on it. Creating new states is tricky, because federal lawmakers don‘t like the idea of upsetting the balance on Capitol Hill with a lot of new Senate and Congressional seats—hence why Puerto Rico hasn‘t made the cut despite overwhelming popular support. The Constitution Center notes that breaking a state up into smaller states has happened only five times, most recently in 1863.
  • Is there any chance of this passing? Well, weirder things have happened. But the most recent polling in April showed that only 17 percent of likely voters support the idea. While the attention the Cal 3 ballot measure is receiving now might up that number, the fact that California has weathered all past attempts at division seems telling.
  • Didn’t they try this a couple of years ago? In 2014 Draper pushed a “Six Californias” plan that didn’t make the cut for a vote. Back then San Francisco was part of a proposed mini-state somewhat dismissively dubbed “Silicon Valley.”
  • But really, what would happen if we did this? First, a tsunami of lawsuits, since nobody has ever actually proposed a new state by ballot initiative before. Assuming those cleared up and the federal government unexpectedly gave the go ahead to the split, the California Secretary of State office’s analysis says that the move would unleash a host of problems over tax rates, public schools, health services, the prison system and above all water rights, perhaps taking decades to resolve:
  • “While this measure anticipates action to divide California’s debts and secure congressional approval within two years after voter approval, it would be difficult for this timeline to be put into practice. When West Virginia separated from Virginia, court cases related to the states’ debts persisted for about 50 years. Some of the legal and practical issues of splitting up California suggest there is a high likelihood that the process would take many years to complete.”

A political non-starter

Here’s the biggest hurdle in my book: It doesn’t matter how many Californians vote to split the state, or how much money some rich guy wants to waste on pushing this idea. It simply won’t happen unless Congress really wants it to happen — and Congress can’t even agree on passing a budget much less deciding whether or not to carve three states out of one.

The political considerations make this a non-starter.

As the LA Times pointed out:

“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.”

The one thing Tim Draper and his Cal 3 campaign (that’s what they’re calling the ballot initiative) get right is that California, as it is currently constituted, is a bureaucratic mess. The British newspaper The Guardian says that the  Cal 3 campaign blames “the Sacramento system of top-down control” for the state’s various ills, and suggests that having state governments “closer to home” will result in better outcomes for education, infrastructure and taxes.

They’re right that education, infrastructure, and taxes all need to be better managed, and that the current Legislature does a pretty crappy job of that, but it’s doubtful that going from one big, poorly run state to three smaller ones will solve anything.

3 incompetent legislatures instead of one

Plus, California has faced many attempts to split the state and none of them really got much traction. As the LA Times also pointed out:

“The history of California, admitted to the Union on Sept. 9, 1850, has been marked by more than 200 attempts to either reconfigure its boundaries, split it into pieces, or even have the state secede and become an independent country. The last three-state proposal, crafted by a Butte County legislator, failed in the state Capitol in 1993. A publicized effort by activists to have California secede from the United States, branded the ‘Calexit’ proposal, continues to be bandied about for the ballot in 2020.”

The logic behind this initiative also doesn’t compute. Why does Draper believe that three smaller states would somehow be better run than one big one? And, why does he believe that legislators of those smaller states would magically be less bureaucratic and more transparent than the gaggle of them we currently have in Sacramento?

Add in the billions of dollars a breakup would cost, as well as the difficultly of re-allocating water rights, splitting up two state university systems (the largest in the world), and other such minor matters that Tim Draper doesn’t seem to have spent much time thinking about, and you can see why this isn’t going anywhere.

If Draper can’t get someone like me — a person who believes that California desperately needs a major housecleaning — on board, how is he ever going to get millions of others to vote for this monstrosity of a ballot measure that seems to create many more issues than it is trying to solve?

I’m with Ken Roush of Carlsbad, who wrote to the San Diego Union-Tribune and gave a short and sweet analysis of this crazy proposal. He said:

If we vote yes on dividing California into three states we can then have three times as many politicians and three incompetent legislatures instead of only one.”

That gets to the heart of this latest move to break up California, and is about as sharp an insight on this nutty ballot initiative as you’re going to get.

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