Californians to Vote on Initiative to Divide Their State Into 3

Three California bears? Photo: Cartoon Network

Silicon Valley venture capitalist and all-around busybody Tim Draper is back with another effort to chop up California into allegedly more manageable portions. Going into the 2016 elections, he was trying (unsuccessfully) to get a ballot initiative certified that would have aimed at creating six Californias. For a variety of reasons, that seemed to be way too many new states for most people. Now Draper is back with a more modest proposal to create three Californias, and he’s managed to spend enough money and get enough signatures for it to appear on the November 2018 general election ballot, cheek-by-jowl with more conventional initiatives on matters like gas and property taxes.

The three proposed new states are:

North California, which would run from San Jose up to the Oregon border and include Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay;
South California, including most of the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Orange County; and
California, covering the Central Coast from Monterey to Los Angeles.

The six-state proposal involved large disparities in population and wealth (one of the new states would have been the wealthiest in the country, while another would have been the nation’s poorest); the three states under the revised proposal are roughly equal in populations, and while not equal economically (North California would be significantly wealthier than the other two) are not wildly disparate.

The arguments for splitting up the state range from the usual smaller-is-better claims that California is too big and unwieldy to function efficiently, to the more qualitative arguments that the state’s diversity ensures that significant communities are denied adequate representation and autonomy.

The two biggest problems with three Californias are practical, not theoretical. For one thing, the very California legislature that people like Draper consider hopelessly sclerotic and interest-group-driven would have to approve it. And then Congress would have to approve it as well. It’s been well over a half-century since a new state has been admitted to the Union, and over a century-and-a-half since an existing state was divided when West Virginia was created — and that required a civil war as a lubricant.

Both national political parties might have issues with the idea. Democrats could lose the united clout of California’s current 55 electoral votes in presidential contests. Republicans won’t like the addition of four U.S. senators — at least two of whom would likely be Democrats — which would dilute the built-in advantage their small-state strength currently gives them in the upper chamber.

But the most immediate obstacle to three Californias is that the voters of one California would have to approve it before anything else happened, and at the moment, they don’t like the idea at all. An April SurveyUSA poll showed registered voters opposing “CAL3” by a 72/17 margin. Regional support topped out at 22 percent in the Central Valley, a hotbed of conservative resentment of rich coastal elites with their silly environmental and labor regulations. But even there, three of four voters opposed it.

Tim Draper is a very rich man, but it’s unlikely he could drag his initiative across the line in November even if he broke his piggy bank. And for people really alienated from the status quo, there is always the alternative of secession from Trump’s United States, a proposition that could yet be on the ballot for 2020. At this point “Calexit” is more popular than CAL3.

Californians to Vote on Proposal to Divide State Into 3