You could argue a Silicon Valley investor who saw the early potential of Tesla, Skype and cryptocurrency has a keen sense of knowing what we want before we do.
So it’s hard to just dismiss venture capitalist Tim Draper and his latest fantasy of subdividing California into three smaller states, even as the know-it-alls of government and politics scoff at the idea that seems headed for the November ballot.
“California government has rotted,” Draper, 59, said by cell phone last week. “We need to empower our population to improve their government.”
Draper is in many ways an unlikely champion for such radical change. The billionaire entrepreneur has enjoyed great success in California as it is. And he’s already lost more than $5 million on past investments in dividing California.
But Draper is undaunted in pushing a ballot initiative to recreate the Golden State.
“The easy thing to do is to say, ‘Oh, let it sit and maybe some politician will fix it for us,'” Draper said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Draper’s belief that his native state has become irreparably broken remains unchanged from his last bid to break it up. He points to high taxes, low public school test scores, crumbling roads, bridges and dams, swollen prisons, massive debt for government workers’ retirement, crushing regulations and a steady stream of businesses and entrepreneurs decamping for other states.
“I’ve been in California all my life, and I don’t want to move,” Draper said. “I want to be able look people in the eye and say, ‘Come to California, this place is awesome!'”
Of course, there are plenty of critics of all political stripes who disagree both with Draper’s assessment of the state as dysfunctional and his proposed fix. Steven Maviglio, a longtime Democratic Party adviser who helped defeat Draper’s last effort to split California and is helping organize the current opposition, noted the state remains an economic powerhouse with a balanced budget.
To the extent California has problems, Maviglio said, they would only multiply as three new governors and legislatures argue over divvying up interconnected networks for water, parks, prisons, colleges and other things.
“It’s not like you’re starting from scratch, you have to blow up everything,” Maviglio said. “There are so many fundamentally flawed aspects to this.”
So why bother forming an opposition campaign? “In this day and age,” Maviglio said, “anything can happen politically.”
The state’s legislative analyst has laid out the process for dividing California, and to Draper, it’s not as complicated as critics make it seem.
“The opposition, they’re Sacramento insiders who want to hold on to their power,” Draper said. “The opposition wants to make you think this is very hard, very complex. It’s very simple.”
Still, Draper’s proposed remedy is a big ask. The U.S. hasn’t added new states since 1959, or split an existing one since the Civil War with West Virginia’s 1863 divorce from Virginia. The one time California sought Congressional blessing to divide itself, in 1859? Crickets. Making it happen would require not only approval by voters but cooperation from the state Legislature, Congress and the courts — no sure thing, to say the least.
But the first lift is getting enough California voters interested to get the question on the ballot. Draper’s last bid, to divide California into six smaller states, failed to garner enough valid signatures out of more than 1 million submitted to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
This time around, Draper’s people submitted 600,000-plus signatures last month, 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 is expected by mid-June to say whether enough are valid.
Draper said the lesson from his last bid was that six states was “too much of a brain explosion for people.” He considered various alternatives, even changing state boundaries, before concluding that “three Californias is kind of a natural thing” that would have the best shot at success.
The proposed three states would be Northern California, from Santa Cruz, the Bay Area and Merced north to Oregon; California, along the coast from Monterey through Los Angeles; and Southern California, from Fresno down to San Diego. Each would have populations between 12 million and 14 million, and would retain existing counties.
A Survey USA poll in April was not encouraging, with only 17 percent in favor and 72 percent opposed. Political observers have noted that for conservatives frustrated with California’s governing liberals, the proposed new states don’t necessarily help. Those in the northern counties who have clamored for an independent “State of Jefferson” still would share a Northern California state with the liberal Bay Area and Sacramento.
But Draper said his own polling suggests voters, much like his family and friends who initially called the idea “crazy,” eventually “come around” when they learn more about it. The “Jefferson” folks, he added, could later part from Northern California if they remain unsatisfied. Residents of the three new Californias could crowd-source to pick new state birds and flowers, and their biggest burden would be changing the state name on their address, he said.
“These three states,” Draper said, “create hope and opportunity for Californians.”
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