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The Politics of State Mitosis

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 6/5/2014, midnight

Since California became a state in 1849, there have been attempts to divide its territory into smaller areas: In those days, the major issue was to have a non-slave state North California, and a slave state South California. That battle was lost by the slave staters. Since then, there have been at least 219 more proposals to divide California into smaller states.

In 1854, the new California State Assembly passed a bill to divide the state into at least two different states—from San Diego County north to Monterey, Merced and Mariposa as the state of Colorado, and the northern counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, Modoc, Humboldt, Trinity, Butte, Colusa and Mendocino as the state of Shasta. The state senate did not agree and the idea died.

In 1859, the state legislature passed, and the governor signed, the Pico Act, which approved splitting the state south of the 36th parallel as Colorado, and the rest as North California. The federal government, however, never approved the plan and the Civil War caused the idea’s abandonment again.

In 1941, some of the northern counties close to the Oregon border tried to secede as the state of Jefferson. That movement got pushed aside by WWII.

In 1965, the California State Senate passed a bill to divide the state using the Tehachapi Mountains as the dividing boundary. In order to be taken seriously, the effort had to have a companion Assembly approval, a state referendum approval, and the approval by the U.S. Congress. None of that occurred.

Then in 1992, an Assembly bill tried again to divide the state into three new states—North California, Central California and South California. The State Senate never approved.

There were similar ill-fated attempts in 2003, 2009 and 2011. Then, in 2013, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Tim Draper, introduced a proposal that has gotten more traction than any of the others. His advocacy is to divide California into six new states—South California (including San Diego and Orange counties), West California (including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara), Central California (Bakersfield, Fresno and Stanton), Silicon Valley (San Francisco and San Jose), North California (the Sacramento Delta area) and Jefferson (the Redding-Eureka areas).

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has since approved the idea, and Draper’s forces are now out trying to gather the 807, 615 registered voter signatures needed to get the proposal on the November 2014 ballot. The signatures have to be in by July 18 in order to be placed before the voters.

So, we should get ready for a blitzkrieg of activity this summer by folks with clipboards in front of Albertson’s, Ralph’s and some of our favorite Crenshaw mall stores. But even if the proposal makes the ballot, it does not have a snowball’s chance in Hades to pass in California. It’s just not going to happen.

Why all the hullabaloo anyway? Mr. Draper says that California is currently too big at 38 million people, and it is currently ungovernable. Too many parts are inefficient, too many citizens are getting little, if any, representation, and the rural areas of the state are consistently having their interests ignored, disregarded or simply dismissed by those representing the urban areas. According to Mr. Draper, all Californians would be better off agreeing to get smaller and leaner.