Frustrated by slow progress in securing petitions and undermined by bad publicity over a colleague’s strategic retreat to Russia, the chief organizer of the Yes California campaign to move the Golden State toward secession from the United States called it quits yesterday, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Less than three months after being given the green light to start gathering voter signatures, the author of a closely watched effort to split California from the United States has decided to withdraw his proposal.
Marcus Ruiz Evans, the initiative’s official proponent, sent an email Monday to the secretary of state’s office asking to cancel his initiative.
Evans indicated in a public statement that his group had only collected 97,500 of the 585,000 signatures needed by July 25 to place an initiative on the November 2018 ballot, which would have in turn authorized a 2019 special election to consider formal independence. But an even bigger problem was that Andrew Marinelli, his partner in founding Yes California back in 2014, decamped to Russia in December and associated himself with a government-backed group that considered his efforts congruent with those of Crimean separatists who supported Russia’s annexation of that previously Ukrainian region. As the Washington Post explained:
While no indications exist of a direct Russian government hand in Mr. Marinelli’s organization, a group that is nominally independent but nonetheless state financed, and supports only causes that dovetail with the Kremlin’s foreign policy, paid for a hotel room in Moscow during a congress of secessionist groups from around the world in September 2016. These included the Texas Nationalist Movement, backers of Puerto Rican independence and a group wanting to restore the Hawaiian monarchy. A Russian group, known as the Anti-Globalization Movement, which like Mr. Marinelli advocates the breakup of the United States, also offered him office space in Moscow to open an “embassy” of California in Russia, and Mr. Marinelli accepted.
This was not exactly catnip to Calexit supporters back home eager to accuse Donald Trump of complicity with Vladimir Putin. It also came out that Marinelli had himself voted for Trump.
So this particular Calexit movement appears to be collapsing due to the weight of its own internal problems. But hope abides for a more successful effort:
Evans said he was leaving the Yes California group and joining the California Freedom Coalition, which he described as a grassroots organizing effort that evolved since last year’s election.
The coalition plans to file its own ballot measure in coming weeks, without the baggage of Marinelli’s Russian ties, said Steve Gonzales, the new group’s secretary-treasurer and board member.
“It prevented Yes California from getting any serious money, I can tell you that,” Gonzales said, noting that he is a native Californian who has never been to Russia. The group will accept no foreign money, and contributions from other states must be cleared by the coalition’s board, he said.
Yeah, when the leaders of a grassroots political movement have to keep telling people they “have never been to Russia,” there’s a certain PR problem.
While they are regrouping, the California secessionists might want to reconsider Yes California’s rather convoluted process for taking the state out of the union, which involved a requirement that a certain percentage of voters had to participate in the crucial referendum and produce a super-majority margin. Given the massive legal and political problems a successful referendum would immediately encounter — secession without the concurrence of the rest of the country simply isn’t happening, as certain Southern states learned a while back — it makes no particular sense for Calexit proponents to add to the obstacles with their own Rube Goldberg procedures.
So long as Donald Trump is president, however, the idea of the nation’s largest and bluest state going its own way will never completely die. And the idea of an independent Bear Republic certainly predates Trump or Yes California: According to one count, there have been 200 formal efforts since 1849 either to split California into multiple states or take it out of the Union. It’s as though California is never perpetually at ease with itself or with the larger country whose future it is often thought to represent, as a promise or a threat.