6 questions about new plan to split California into 6 states

There have been a lot of ideas over the years about carving California up into smaller states, but none in recent memory have both carved it into as many states, or been submitted for a place on the ballot, like the idea pitched by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Tim Draper, whose bio touts his work on the concept of viral marketing, submitted to the attorney general's office on Friday a plan (PDF) to create six separate states out of California -- an initiative he ostensibly hopes to qualify for next November's ballot.

State splitting seems to be somewhat in vogue in California as 2013 comes to an end. Following in the footsteps of generations of frustrated secessionists, north state officials have recently been circulating a proposal to create the otherwise mythic state of Jefferson. Supervisors in three northern counties - Siskiyou, Modoc, and Tehama - have all voted in the last few months to put an advisory issue on the ballot.

Enter Tim Draper, who briefly served on the state Board of Education in the late 1990s and whose political dabbling generally seems to have been on Republican causes in the past, blogging before last year's presidential election about voters lacking real choices when it came to their government.

Draper's idea is to slice California into six generally geographically compact states, each with governors and U.S senators. It would do so, in theory, sometime around 2018, after an interim government hashed out a deal to divvy up the existing Golden State's treasures and liabilities.

UPDATE 11:00 a.m.: The author of the initiative, Tim Draper, responded by email on Saturday morning to my six questions. His answers follow each of the questions below...

1. Why Six? Nowhere in the initiative filed, or the placeholder website, do Draper or others explain the methodology used to arrive at six states -- either the number itself or how the states were carved up. Yes, they generally hew to some kind of geographic pattern, but a pattern on a map is often in the eye of the beholder. For example, Marin County in a separate state from San Francisco? Amador and Calaveras, two Sierra foothill counties with common economies and populations, in separate states? Should a trip from Hollywood to Disneyland take you across state lines? Whatever the rationale -- demographic, geographic, political -- we don't know much without Draper offering some information.

When you crunch the political numbers for the six states -- Jefferson, North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California, and South California - you find three states that are majority Democratic and three that are majority Republican. But all but one of the GOP states (South California) are barely red and could... conceivably... be close enough to swing states to, when combined, give Democrats a solid shot at strong control in Washington, D.C. if they played their cards right.

And how many representatives would each state get? The longstanding federal law holds that membership of the House of Representatives is fixed at 435; might six states, instead of one, mean some powerful screaming from other states who would have to lose seats? Or consider new California states like Jefferson, where the population would be slightly larger than Delaware and may end up (like other small U.S. states) with a single member of Congress. That would be a loss of representation compared to how many current Californians represent northern counties on Capitol Hill.

Also intriguing: the initiative's wording that any California county displeased with its assignment has a limited amount of time to ask for a do-over, as long as it's joining a contiguous group (no San Fran joining L.A., folks). Might tiny Sierra County, for example, ticked with having to live in a state alongside Marin and Solano, ask to join its neighbor Plumas County in Jefferson? What kind of political deals might be struck for a more wealthy (or less wealthy) county to re-shuffle the map?

DRAPER:The initial lines were drawn with population, geographic and regional considerations. Counties can vote to join another state if they choose. To the extent that you identify current counties as have/have nots, isn't that a commentary on the existing order/status quo? Aren't they all better off getting a fresh start with the possibility of better government services and a platform for prosperity?

2. Is the Six Californias Plan Legal? UC Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen quickly opined on Friday that the whole thing might not be kosher in court. "The California Supreme Court would almost certainly rule that such a measure cannot go on the ballot as an initiative," he writes. Why? Because there's a distinction between an amendment and a revision to the state constitution via the initiative -- an amendment (smaller change) is okay, a revision (bigger change) isn't allowed. "Under the state Supreme Court's test for revisions (most recently in a case involving the Proposition 8 anti-same sex marriage measure)," writes Hasen, "splitting the state into six would count as a revision."

DRAPER:We examined this with experts and respectfully disagree.

3. What About Congress?Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says both Congress and the California Legislature would have to approve the splitting of the Golden State into six new entities. That would be a political battle royale. Assume for a moment that the issue would be easily resolved in the state Capitol in Sacramento (a big assumption); the national debate, especially given how many other entities have been yearning for statehood for so long, could be enormously hard to win for the pro-state splitters. As mentioned, it could jumble the makeup of the House of Representatives, and it would seemingly boost the U.S. Senate to 110 members. Two or three of these new California states would instantly be in the upper echelon of states by population, and remember that a lot of federal spending formulas are dictated by state size. Others are dictated by age and income. Government dollars would be divvied in new ways, and that makes for a swirl of tough national politics.

DRAPER:If the voters approve it, there will be momentum for passage in Washington. I will support that citizen activism.

4. Do Californians Want This? The most important question is whether the initiative would even pass if on the ballot. Two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters surveyed by the Field Poll (PDF) rejected the brewing idea of northern California counties to break free from the nation's most populous state. 64 percent of Los Angelenos who were asked rejected the idea - and remember, LA is home to more California voters than anywhere else. Would the campaign be revolutionary... or a circus? Would California be lauded for its thoughtfulness, or made out as a national laughingstock? And remember, too, that elections are decided by the voters that show up. 2014 isn't supposed to be a big turnout year (read: Democrats), but the governor's race will be on the ballot and -- in recent days -- there's been talk of a big fight over teacher tenure, public employee pensions, or both. That could push the Democratic vote even higher, and 65 percent of them already reject the north state option in the recent Field Poll.

DRAPER:The Field Poll only tested Jefferson's separation from California. This initiative offers all Californians a choice for better local representation and better federal representation in the Senate.

5. Who Pays for the Campaign? While initiative author Tim Draper is a Silicon Valley venture fund entrepreneur, does he have the cash to largely self-fund this effort? State campaign finance records show Draper and his wife have spent $406,000 on California campaigns since 2005. That's big money in some races, a drop in the bucket for what it costs to qualify and initiative and then run a serious and intense statewide initiative campaign. If Draper isn't going to self-finance the initiative, then who else steps in? Would the business community, for example, see benefit in some smaller California states that - under possible GOP control - offer less regulation and lower taxes? Would it complicate their business strategy with more politicians to lobby, more campaigns to back, etc? The financial backing for a 'Six Californias' initiative is a key question.

DRAPER:We are working on that. I am hoping to get a lot of signatures through word of mouth. We are starting to get good grass roots support.

6. What's the Benefit? The last question is largely in the eye of the beholder, leading to perhaps a different answer for every Californian who thinks about slicing up his or her home state. In my emailed question to Mr. Draper, I asked specifically about whether this would create states of 'haves' and other states of 'have nots.'

DRAPER:That status quo isn't working for 38 million Californians. The status quo gives us both economic and political haves and have nots. I think more local government is better, don't you? Sacramento has an untenable job trying to match the needs of 38 million people with their policies. It just doesn't seem to work. The needs in Central California are so different from the needs in Coastal California and different from the needs of Silicon Valley and "Jefferson." Both South California and Jefferson have movements to disassociate themselves from the state. Why not move government closer to the people and raise our voice in the Senate? Why not let voters choose if they are content with the way they are currently represented?

There's some thought provoking data to consider on this. Friday's new employment report (PDF) confirms that the rural counties in proposed states like Jefferson and South California have the highest jobless rates; a state like the new Silicon Valley would have remarkably low unemployment. A 2010 report found many of California's inland counties have much higher rates of social services needed -- and used -- than do the coastal counties. The tax bases of Silicon Valley and West California, to name but two, would be much larger than their more poor California neighbors to the east and north. Is the sales pitch simply that small states have better governance? Are existing small states in the U.S. a good role model? Would some of the more poor regions in California find their ability to provide for citizens hindered? Or would this allow for experimentation yet unseen from any set of states in the nation?

John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.


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