Splitting Up California? Not So Fast

 

One of the more talked about political developments of late here in California is a proposed ballot initiative that would split the state into six new entities. With the widespread unhappiness about how the state is governed, the proposal has received plenty of attention in the press. But can it work? As Ricochet editor Troy Senik and I explain over at City Journal, the answer to that question is a definitive no.

First of all, the complaint that California can’t be governed in its present state has some serious problems:

Though many of [initiative proponent Tim] Draper’s criticisms have merit, his broader indictment of the state as “ungovernable” — a fashionable cliché among those concerned with reforming state government—doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Texas, for example, is physically larger than the Golden State and is its closest rival for population size; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it has an identical proportion of Hispanic residents (38.2 percent). Yet no one is declaring Texas—one of the nation’s great economic success stories in recent years—irredeemably flawed. California is certainly badly governed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ungovernable.

With the quick-fix optimism one might expect from a Silicon Valley denizen, Draper argues that breaking up California into six smaller states would create competitive pressures that will force each new jurisdiction to contend for citizens and businesses. That might be true at the margins, but the state already faces those pressures; witness the outflow of citizens and corporations to states such as Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Competition guarantees consequences for failure. It does not ensure reform.

Also, even were the initiative to pass, the legal hurdles are almost insurmountable:

… The United States Constitution erects a virtual Mt. Everest for Draper’s plan to scale. Article IV, Section 3 declares: “No new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State, nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures concerned as well as of the Congress.” Only two other actions under the Constitution—state requests for national military assistance “against domestic Violence” and the passage of constitutional amendments—require agreement by both the states and the federal government. Clearly, the Framers wanted such processes to be exceedingly difficult.

Congress and the states have rarely agreed to let a single state engage in constitutional mitosis. It has happened just five times in American history, the last time 150 years ago. The first four instances—Vermont splitting off from New York in 1791; Kentucky separating from Virginia in 1792; Tennessee being carved out of North Carolina in 1796; and Maine cleaving away from Massachusetts in 1820—represented divisions of vast territories without long political histories. More controversially, West Virginia declared its independence from Virginia during the Civil War, when Virginia had seceded from the union and a government-in-exile consented to the division. None of these cases offers an easy analogue to Draper’s California proposal.

You can read the whole thing for the thorough analysis.

What do you think, Ricochet Californians? Would you be open to the idea of dividing up the state? And what do those of you throughout the country think about the prospect of states being able to break up this way?

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  1. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    It practice I think it would be a good  move.  For political reasons, I doubt it will happen.  Both parties are skeptical of moves that could tip the balance of power in Washington.

    Five new states means ten new senators.  If the new states tilt left or right, that is reason enough for one party to kill the measure if it came to a vote in Washington.

    • #1
  2. user_1032405 Coolidge
    user_1032405
    @PostmodernHoplite

    As an ex-pat Californio (currently exiled in Seattle), I can attest that this talk of dividing the Golden State goes back decades. Although I think the idea has merit (as a means of restoring the franchise to hundreds of thousands of citizens whose votes simply don’t count), adding more government (in this case increasing the number of state-level entities, which will in-turn require and increase in Federal-level oversight agencies) is a huge negative. More government, more cost, limited benefit.

    • #2
  3. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    CLARK SUMMERS:

    As an ex-pat Californio (currently exiled in Seattle), I can attest that this talk of dividing the Golden State goes back decades. Although I think the idea has merit (as a means of restoring the franchise to hundreds of thousands of citizens whose votes simply don’t count), adding more government (in this case increasing the number of state-level entities, which will in-turn require and increase in Federal-level oversight agencies) is a huge negative. More government, more cost, limited benefit.

    Disagree on this overall point.  It’s the same amount of government (state level), just representing less people and thus acting more locally.  It would be a net plus.

    • #3
  4. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    I’m sure it would be politically very difficult, but I would love to see it happen.   California is execrably governed. And as Victor Davis Hansen suggests, it is governed by the pampered elite on the coasts, which is terrible situation for people in the interior, whose livelihoods are often threatened by rich coastal folks and their regulations.  With the top two candidate thing that happened a few years ago, conservatives are basically unrepresented in California.  And the taxes are simply crippling.  I love the place, the weather and my friends, but politically, I detest this state.   Dividing it would be an answer to prayers.  Dems would absolutely resist, however.  They get so many electoral votes from here for which they do not have to campaign at all.  They’d fight it tooth and nail.   But oh, killing CA in it’s present form would make many, many people I know very, very happy.

    • #4
  5. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Absolutely. I vote specifically for Orange County as it’s own separate state because we’ve got the money and the political acumen to support our own.

    • #5
  6. Fredösphere Inactive
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    I’ve always felt very sorry for all those conservatives in Orange County and those hardy yeomen types (or whatever they are) in the interior who must chafe under the yoke of Sacramento. Plus, this is a chance to name a state after Reagan. Six sounds like a high number (I would have picked four) but otherwise I think such a move would be an unalloyed good. Which is to say, it will never happen.

    • #6
  7. Fredösphere Inactive
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Also consider that the U.S. at it’s founding had a population of 2.4 million, and the framers were certain there were too many people to form a unitary republic–only a federal republic had a chance. California now is 15 times bigger.

    I know you love to second-guess the founders, John, but on this issue, as on every issue, they were right. They’re always right. ;-)

    • #7
  8. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Fredösphere:

    I’ve always felt very sorry for all those conservatives in Orange County and those hardy yeomen types (or whatever they are) in the interior who must chafe under the yoke of Sacramento. Plus, this is a chance to name a state after Reagan. Six sounds like a high number (I would have picked four) but otherwise I think such a move would be an unalloyed good. Which is to say, it will never happen.

    @ A2:  I also feel a bit sorry for some of my homies in Bloomfield Hills, MI. :))

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    John Yoo: And what do those of you throughout the country think about the prospect of states being able to break up this way?

    The problem is really a city/country one across America.  If Chicago were broken off from Illinois, “downstate” might look a bit redder and the new Chicago state even bluer.  Same for NYC vs. Upstate, Detroit vs. the rest of Michigan, and other states I could mention.  Looking at the proposed California map, it’s not quite carving out the big cities, but there is a trend there. 

    When one looks abroad, it is not unusual for large cities to be carved out as units of their own.  Cities like London and Bristol are their own counties in England, although they were once part of others. 

    I do like the idea of closer-to-local government, but what would determine the process?  How big a city would be carved out?  Would it be based on political differences?  What if the Dems, who rule most of the states with the largest cities want to gerrymander the states so they still dominate the new statelets?  Generally, I suspect the Founding Fathers may have been right on this one.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    On the other hand, I think they should have included a restriction in the Constitution to limit the area of new states.  Say that it were 50,000 sq. miles as the restriction.  Most of the Western states would be much smaller.  Anyone got a time machine?  Maybe we could send that suggestion back?

    • #10
  11. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I think we are having a crisis of representation.  Some mitosis is desperately needed.

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    John Yoo: Clearly, the Framers wanted such processes to be exceedingly difficult.

    Ohhhhmmmm…  All hail the wisdom of the Framers. What they’ve done can not be undone. Ohhhhmmmm…

    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Guruforhire: I think we are having a crisis of representation. Some mitosis is desperately needed.

    One of the original proposed ideas as a change for the Constitution that would have been in the Bill of Rights was to limit the population of Congressional districts to 50,000.  I read somewhere that the guy who got assigned to write up the wording of the amendment was against the idea, so he reversed the wording.  Had that been done properly and passed, we would now have about 6,000 representatives in the house and much smaller districts.  Would that also help solve the crisis of representation?

    • #13
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mike H: Ohhhhmmmm… All hail the wisdom of the Framers. What they’ve done can not be undone. Ohhhhmmmm…

     Of course it can be undone.  There is a process for amending the Constitution.  It is not easy, but it can be done.  That is also true of splitting a state.  It is not easy, but can be done as the Constitution stands.

    • #14
  15. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Arahant:

    Mike H: Ohhhhmmmm… All hail the wisdom of the Framers. What they’ve done can not be undone. Ohhhhmmmm…

    Of course it can be undone. There is a process for amending the Constitution. It is not easy, but it can be done. That is also true of splitting a state. It is not easy, but can be done as the Constitution stands.

     I question that we will ever amend the constitution again. I’m sure these rule served a virtuous purpose when they were written, but now it’s too restrictive and there’s nothing we can do about it. The Founders couldn’t guess what the country would become.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mike H: The Founders couldn’t guess what the country would become.

     I think you need to read more of what the Founders wrote and said.  They saw exactly what it would become.  Many of those men were steeped in history.  They knew what would happen.  On another thread today I quoted Ben Franklin from when a woman asked about what they had come up with: “A republic, madame, if you can keep it.”  There are plenty of quotes of Adams where he said this sort of system can only work in a religious and moral society.  Why did he say that?  Because he knew history.  Today’s conditions are not unexpected.

    • #16
  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Arahant: “A republic, madame, if you can keep it.”

     Wasn’t my fault, but I’m paying for it.

    • #17
  18. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    Arahant:

    John Yoo: And what do those of you throughout the country think about the prospect of states being able to break up this way?

    I agree entirely with Arahant.  In Oregon, we would love to divorce the Portland metro area from the rest of the state.  We would be solidly red then. 

    Our state government embarrasses us continually, as evidenced by the spectacular, criminal, failure of the Obamacare website.

    • #18
  19. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    There’s no real interest in it. It’s like “Let’s all learn Esperanto! We’ll all speak the same language!”.  It’s a fantasy, like lib fantasies about brilliant Ecotopia breaking off from mean ol’ Jesusland. But enjoy anyway.

    • #19
  20. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Frank Soto:

    It practice I think it would be a good move. For political reasons, I doubt it will happen. Both parties are skeptical of moves that could tip the balance of power in Washington.

    Five new states means ten new senators. If the new states tilt left or right, that is reason enough for one party to kill the measure if it came to a vote in Washington.

     The boundaries would be set so that all 6 tilted left or at least 5.

    The prospect of permanent control of the Senate has Harry Reid again deciding that cloture does not apply and he rams it through.

    If the Dems take the House, they can also ram it through.

    For a Dem CA legislator, the sextupling of your chance at becoming a Senator is powerful incentive to ram it through. Republicans might join in. Is there a competing interest within the state such as unions?

    The only downside is the chance that a Republican Presidential candidate could capture one of the six states. However, after the last two elections the Dems may feel comfortable enough about the Electoral College to take that risk.

    • #20
  21. Dad of Four Inactive
    Dad of Four
    @DadofFour

    It is interesting that the central valley is spoken of as one of  the poorest regions.  If they had control of their water I think that they would be one of the wealthiest regions; especially in quality of life.

    • #21
  22. user_1032405 Coolidge
    user_1032405
    @PostmodernHoplite

    You don’t think that the Federal government (particularly the Executive branch agencies) wouldn’t use the increase in total number of states to increase operating budget and expand staff, based upon the excuse that “We’ve got to supervise, manage and attend to more states than before – more offices to staff, more faculties to manage, more locations to distribute goods and services to”? What benefit is gained if the cost of maintaining a state capitol (Sacramento) is now multiplied by six? Is there going to be a measurable increase in the quality of government, versus simply increasing the quantity?
    I appreciate the principle your reply is making – I am skeptical that it would have the desired effect.

    • #22
  23. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    The choice of the word “ungovernable” is really a poor one. The really issue is how the state is currently governed

    a) right into bankruptcy because of the profligate spending of the state legislature and
    b) by cities and counties that have conferred more rights and benefits to illegal aliens than to legal California residents;
    c) by bureaucratic eco-fascists who regulated the oil and gas industry to prohibit the building of new refineries, prohibit off-shore oil, and insist on gas blends that no other state mandates – such that a gallon of gas is just shy of $5 a gallon and climbing;
    d) by a massive amount of regulation that frustrates new start-up business and finally;
    e) with a corporate tax level that drives large employers to other states
    – all of which has a tangible effect on draining and hurting the greater California economy.

    Despite the likelihood of ever splitting the state up, the secessionist movement expresses the frustration, anger and constant irritation of those living under the thumb of Leftists from the Bay Area, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

    Can it happen? Probably not. Should it happen? Definitely.

    • #23
  24. user_928618 Inactive
    user_928618
    @JimLion

    It’d be good for most of California’s citizens if we divided it up.

    • #24
  25. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Jim Lion:

    It’d be good for most of California’s citizens if we divided it up.

     And bad for the rest of the country. I rarely agree with Prof. Yoo, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. 

    • #25
  26. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    What does “ungovernable” mean?  Does it mean that too many Californians don’t like being told what to do, so they become, therefore, “ungovernable”?

    I’ll tell you what’s ungovernable.  A state bureaucracy that becomes only accountable to itself and political interests at the cost of making things much worse for the people it purports to represent.  

    If California is ungovernable, it’s because the government in place has made it so.  If you have quadrillions of regulations to enforce, you need a huge government to do so.  If you limit the scope of government, you have less reason to install a bureaucracy to police the regulatory state put in place by Sacramento.  From there, the state becomes more “governable” because you don’t need a government by, for, and of the people that mainly serves the interests of the political class and the bureaucracy that implements policy.

    Build roads.  Provide water.  Police, fire, schools.  That should be the limits of “governance”, and if a politician or bureaucrat doesn’t like it, then jam it and get a real job.

    • #26
  27. mikeInThe716 Member
    mikeInThe716
    @mikeInThe716

    While splitting CA into 5 states sounds interesting, it’s not likely given the hurdles. Smaller seems (intuitively) better, but in practice, who knows how it would play.
    Off topic, I understand that TX was given pre-approval to split into 5 or fewer states upon admission to the union (in 1845).  So could TX split today following a majority vote in its legislature?

    • #27
  28. Obviousity Inactive
    Obviousity
    @Obviousity

    Back in the 1950’s and 60’s there was much talk of splitting the state in half(?) north and south at the Tehachapis.  This way then very liberal rich Santa Barbara County would go with its San Francisco brethren and poor conservative Ventura was relegate to remain dominated by the then conservative Los Angeles.

    Today I suggest an east west bifurcation down the San Andreas fault south to the San Gabriel River [ OK, the I-605 Freeway]. The liberals always say that there is no life east of the I-405  and congregate there.  The coast is going to fall off into the Pacific eventually. This arrangement will keep OC, San Diego County, the inland empire and all the “cow counties” up north together with just certain soft spots of Sacramento and parts of Berkeley.  Finally, the very far north pot growers will never notice.

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Obviousity: The coast is going to fall off into the Pacific eventually.

    That is a widely held misunderstanding.  That part is not sinking, it is moving North, so they might eventually be part of Washington or Oregon or Canada or Alaska, depending on how long you have to wait.  But it will be a very loooong wait.

    • #29
  30. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    I’m for a moderately hard way to break up big governments within the United States.  I not only include states like California, but cities like New York.  In New York City, Staten Island would rather break off.  They can’t.

    I would also find a hard, but democratic way for a state to secede.  I propose a 10 year process where three referendums are held.  If all three referendums result in votes to secede, then it happens.  In the meantime, it would give the federal government time to react.  Maybe they’d bribe the state, or maybe if it’s a matter of the feds being too intrusive, maybe they’d back off.  Turn over much of that federal land to the state government.

    Notice what’s happened in Quebec, in relation to Canada.  They’ve had repeated referendums on the question.  Some have been in the affirmative, and others not.  They haven’t really made up their mind.

    On the other hand, Scotland wants out of Britain (but not the European Union).  And Czechoslovakia peacefully broke up forming the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Slavery is not the issue this time around for the U.S.  Why not?

    • #30
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