Author’s Note: Wow, this one turned out to be some kind of undertaking.
On July 18th, the California Supreme Court announced that a measure voted upon during the primary would not be placed on the general ballot. The Court wrote, “We conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election,” as part of their reasoning.
The Cal 3 Resolution or Proposition 9 is the latest form of a push to partition the state of California into multiple smaller states and in many ways it’s emblematic of our current political situation as a nation. But in order to fully understand Proposition 9, it’s imperative to understand the history of the movement to divide California into multiple states. And that’s a history that is older than the state itself.
How’d We Get Here:
The territory that would become the State of California was acquired by the United States in 1848 following the U.S’s victory in the Mexican-American War. The future state was part of the territory of Alta California, which also included the eventual states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. Almost immediately after Alta California was acquired, the issue of statehood became a point of discussion in Washington. The territory was huge but most of the population was settled along the western coast of the continent. Most settlements stretched from the Monterey Bay in the north to the former mission city of San Diego in the south. In between the vast majority of the region’s population were Rancheros, Spanish-speaking cattle farmers. The sheer size of the region meant that it naturally straddled the 36th Parallel or the Mason-Dixon Line which divided the slave-owning states of the slave-holding South and the free North per the Missouri Compromise. The question of statehood was immediately a vital one, as the newly acquired territory could tip the balance of free and slave state representation in DC. One of the very first plans for statehood was put forward in 1848. This plan suggested that the Missouri Compromise be extended across the entire North American continent. This plan would have seen the northern state of California enter as a Free State and the southern state of Colorado allow for slavery. But before even more plans could be drafted, James W Marshall found some flecks of gold in the American River while working on a lumber mill and the California Gold Rush began.
The Gold Rush brought an extremely diverse cross section of fortune seekers west to California. The population boom immediately created a call for a Constitutional Convention. In 1850, the territory held said convention and the state unanimously voted to outlaw slavery. The Missouri Compromise would not be extended across the continent as southern inhabitants of California were overwhelmingly Hispanic and had never practiced slavery in the past. This would eventually lead to the Compromise of 1850, the next in a series of stop-gap measures that serve to illustrate our nation’s collective insanity when it came to the issue of owning people. But most importantly for the purposes of this article, it allowed California to enter the Union as the 31st state of the United States on September 9th, 1850.
Within 5 years, state senators were putting forward a plan to split the state into three new states, in order to accommodate the state government. And this, throughout history has been the recurring motivation for the proposed partitioning of California. From 1855 to Prop Nine, the backers of every movement for partition, many of whom have been state senators and representatives, have argued that the state of California is too large. In 1859, the Pico Act (once again a two state plan with Colorado in the south) was passed through the state senate, and had been approved by the governor. In DC, the Pico Act had a strong advocate in state senator Milton Latham. It’s worth mentioning that Latham was a Democrat and his sympathies lay with the slave-holding branch of the party, which was fracturing in 1859. Obviously, despite Latham’s support, the Pico Act was never voted on as the Civil War broke out soon after its passage. This was the last time that state legislature regarding the partition of California would appear in the 19th century.
The issue would be resurrected in 1965 as a resolution sponsored by State Senator Richard Dolwig. Dolwig proposed once again that the state be divided in half, with the Tehachapi Mountains serving as the dividing line. The Tehachapi Range forms the southern border of the San Joaquin Valley and as such this proposed Southern California would only be made up on roughly 7 counties. The resolution passed through the comitte vote at 27-12 but as an amendment it never made it out of the State Assembly.
Which brings us into the 21st century. Since 2000, no less than six proposed plans have been put forward to divide California into multiple states. Some of them split the state in half, creating a North and South. A few have called for a cluster of the state’s coastal counties to be turned into their own state of Coastal California. And in 2013, a plan called Six Californias was put forward that would split the state into six states. This plan called for the states to be, from the top on down, Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California. That last plan is important because it was funded almost entirely by Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Draper’s petition to get Six Californias off the ground failed to reach the appropriate number of signatures. In 2018 Draper tried again, and was successful at getting his initiative onto the ballot until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in July.
It’s worth noting, before we continue that Tim Draper’s fortunes were not entirely acquired through good old fashioned hard work. He’s a divisive figure, starting from having purchased a huge sum of cryptocurrency at auction in 2014. The cryptocurrency was in the possession of the California government as part of the seizure of the assets of Silk Road, an infamous online black market for drugs. In addition, Draper was one of the first investors in the medical startup company, Theranos. And to call Theranos controversial is putting it lightly. The company went through years of reorganization and failed to deliver a valid product. And at the beginning of 2018, its founders were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy by the federal government. Draper has at best made a minor effort to distance himself from the embattled company. But this feature isn’t about Draper’s fortunes or how he chooses to spend his money, so let us move on…
So Here We Are:
The Partitioning of California has become a fringe issue in the modern era, but it’s one that has garnered a great deal of visibility over recent years. And I think that comes down to the actual intent of platform. Most recently, in 2018, while Tim Draper was campaigning for his Cal 3 Resolution, State Senator Joel Anderson came out in support of the program. “There is no greater insult to the one-party rule in California,” Anderson explained. He went on to say the Cal 3 resolution served as a “barometer of unhappiness,” within California. It’s difficult to find a more succinct summary of why this issue is so common.
When you look at a lot of the modern suggestion for how to divide California, many of them don’t make much sense from a practical standpoint. But from a political standpoint, they almost always have an explicit political dimension. Like Assemblyman Bill Maze’s (R – Fresno) proposal, which divide a segment of California’s coast into West California. “Conservatives don’t have a voice,” said Maze. A westernmost state was part of Draper’s Cal 3 plan too and it’s plain to see why. The central coast of California is the mostly solidly Democratic section of the state. In 2016, Hilary Clinton won the region by about 70% of the vote. In contrast, both North and South California are a little more split between Republicans and Democrats (though all three states would’ve gone to Clinton in 2016, if taken on their own). Draper’s Six Californias plan is even more explicit in its goals, isolating cities like Los Angles, San Francisco and San Diego in their own states. These plans are akin to gerrymandering, the political practice of redrawing voting districts to favor one political party over the other.
When I started this blog, I said that this would not be center around my own politics. But going through the history, it is irrefutable that the question of dividing California has always been a conservative issue. This goes back to the days when being conservative meant being in support of slavery. And from a political standpoint, it makes some sense. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, California has served as a large liberal bulwark in the Electoral College. With 55 votes, California is the largest single sum of votes to be gained in the system. Partitioning California could essentially break the Democratic hold on the West Coast. This partisanship is dangerous because it disregards the needs of the people of the state to focus on a select demographic.
But we live in 2018, the era of Trump. Suddenly, there’s no issue that is too crazy to consider. And so, we end up in a situation where the State Supreme Court is striking Proposition 9 from the ballot because of the danger it poses. And make no mistake, to actually enact a plan like Cal 3 would be a herculean task. It would cost state taxpayers billions, and it would require the state to rethink literally every part of its infrastructure including water rights, and post secondary education among others. For instance, the state of New California would need to import water from its newly established northern neighbor since all of its current water sources would exist in different states. And that’s just one of many glaring problems with the plan.
So What Do We Do?:
I titled this piece A Political Vampire because that’s what this issue seems to be. It’s an issue that simply will not die as it seems to keep coming back. So is there a way to drive the proverbial stake through its heart? Well, yes. We live in a democracy and as such the issue should be voted upon. Granted, I am not saying that the state of California should capitulate to the partisan supporters of the measure. There’s a key difference between Draper’s Cal 3 and his former Six Californias plan. Specifically, the former is an initiative, and not a resolution. This means that in order to get onto the ballot it only needed a a set number of signatures, namely 365,880 (about 5% of the state’s population). And while Draper did acquire about 600,000 names that’s still only 600,000 out of a state population of 39.5 million. Placing this issue front and center would be tantamount to exposing a vampire to direct sunlight. It could not survive under the withering scrutiny of the population at large. Both of California’s gubernatorial candidates have come out against the initiative, which is saying something in this divisive era. I’m confidant that were the state to sit down and have an honest discussion about the issues at the heart of the partitioning issue, they could be sorted out without resorting to extreme solutions.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter. The people who have apparently been clamoring for a divided California do so because they feel as though they do not have a voice in how the state is run. And that’s visibly untrue. They have elected officials like Senator Anderson or Bill Maze before him in 2009. Though if their only representatives are the type of men who would resort to such extreme solutions to issues, then perhaps the onus is upon them to elect better voices. But beyond that they’re still citizens of the state of California. What’s more, extreme solutions like this actually make it harder to solve tough problems like this one. It’s not unlike President Trump’s plea for a border wall. Do we need stricter border security? Does the United States have an immigration issue? I honestly couldn’t tell you, my own opinions on the matter are complicated. But I do know that actually sitting down and having that discussion is nigh impossible at the moment because of calls to “build the Wall.” So it goes with the various cultural issues in California. Is there a discussion to be had about the differences between the rural and urban populations of the state? Or the divide between north and south? Maybe. But we aren’t going to solve those problems by loudly proclaiming that the solution is this to split the entire state up.
We live in a time when Puerto Rico is still largely without power, the water in Flint, Michigan is toxic and where the Executive Branch is allocating 12 billion dollars to save farmers from a trade war that we incited. And in the middle of it all, a few opportunistic partisans want to carve up my home state for their own personal gain, all while telling a minority of constituents that it is in their best interest. In reality, this showboating is nothing more than craven politics at the cost of reason and decency. I can’t do much to help those issues. But maybe, I can do some small iota of good by shedding a little light on this ridiculous (albeit fascinating) issue. If I’m lucky, I can help in some small way.
Thank you for your time.
sixCalifornia.com (yeah, both sites are still up and running. Sadly, Bill Maze’s site can only be reached by the Wayback Machine.)