Should there be three Californias instead of just one? You may soon have a chance to decide.
A Bay Area venture capitalist backing a ballot measure to divide California into three states said Thursday it has received more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
If enough of the more than 600,000 signatures are verified by the California Secretary of State, it would give residents their first chance since before the Civil War to vote on whether to divvy up the most populous U.S. state, which critics have argued has grown too big to be governable.
“This is an unprecedented show of support on behalf of every corner of California to create three state governments that emphasize representation, responsiveness, reliability and regional identity,” venture capitalist Tim Draper, chairman of the “CAL 3” campaign, said in a statement.
The CAL 3 campaign plans to deliver the 600,000-plus signatures, which Draper said represent all 58 counties, next week. Draper noted it is nearly twice as much support as the 365,880 required by state law to get the initiative on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office counties have a month to verify the signatures.
Draper, who had a hand in investing in the early stages of Tesla and Skype, backed a 2014 proposal to turn the Golden State into six states. But it failed to get the required number of signatures to qualify, and the measure never went before voters in the 2016 polls. A 2009 proposal from a Republican Assemblyman from Visalia to split the state in half and give the more conservative Central Valley a bigger say in Sacramento also died quickly.
Others also have proposed various schemes to divide the state, such as a movement in more conservative far northern California for a State of Jefferson and a “Yes California” proposal by the state’s liberals for a “Calexit” secession from the U.S.
Under Draper’s CAL 3 proposal, California would be reduced to a coastal strip running south from Monterey to just past Los Angeles.
The Bay Area would be part of a new Northern California state with a border that starts north of Monterey, runs east and north to the Nevada state line, and includes everything north to the Oregon border.
A new Southern California state would run south from the Northern California border, skirt around the coast from Monterey past Los Angeles, and include San Diego, Death Valley and the rest of the state east to Nevada and Arizona.
Even if approved by state voters, splitting up the state still would require approval from Congress — no easy thing in a sharply divided country. Draper said voters overwhelmingly approved the splitting of California into two states in 1859, but Congress never acted on that request due to the divisions that led to the Civil War in 1861.
Creating two new states would add four new members to the U.S. Senate, two for each of the additional Californias. That may not sit well with representatives from flyover country who already feel like California, which has grown deeply Democratic, has too much influence in Congress.
“There’s very little support for tripling California’s representation in the U.S. Senate,” said Jack Pitney, who teaches politics at Claremont McKenna College.
Draper argues CAL 3 would solve many of California’s most pressing issues, including the state’s failing school systems, highest-in-the-nation taxes, deteriorating infrastructure and strained government, by allowing regional communities to make decisions for their citizens.
“The unanimous support for CAL 3 from all 58 of California’s counties to reach this unprecedented milestone in the legislative process is the signal that across California, we are united behind CAL 3 to create a brighter future for everyone,” Draper said in a statement.
But Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow and political expert, said the proposed new map might not seem like the answer to those most frustrated with the state’s politics. It still leaves northern California conservatives who feel ignored by urban liberals in the same Northern California state as Sacramento and the Bay Area.
“They’re just going to be stepped on again,” Whalen said.
Steven Maviglio, a longtime Democratic Party political consultant who helped lead the effort to oppose Draper’s 2014 effort to split California into six states, said there is no formal CAL 3 opposition group yet, though he and other critics have discussed it.
But Maviglio called CAL 3 “a colossal waste of time” and said putting it on the ballot would mark “a sad day for the initiative process.”
“The notion that smaller is beautiful has not played out with any foundation in facts,” Maviglio said, noting that tiny Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are regularly criticized for mismanagement. And the practical aspects of splitting up the Golden State’s parks, prisons, schools, universities, power grid and water supply are daunting.
“It’s completely unworkable and ridiculous,” Maviglio said. “It’s kind of a shame with so many important issues facing the state that this wacky idea might appear on the ballot.”
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