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Six Degrees of California

Silicon Valley Tycoon Fronts Ballot Measure to Create a Sextet of States


Memo to: Salud, Das, Helene, and Dale

Re: Your political future

Tired of plotting and chasing after local elected offices while waiting around for Lois to retire from Congress already?

Then sign on to the “Division of California into Six States Initiative,” and before you know it, you could be Governor, Attorney General, or even a U.S. Senator from West California!

That, at least, is the parochial political promise held out by Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and sponsor of a proposed fall ballot measure, which would whack the Golden State into six modest-sized members of the Union.

Jerry Roberts

California’s secretary of state has given Draper the go-ahead to gather the 807,615 signatures he needs by midsummer to put his constitutional amendment before voters in November. The high-tech guru, who helped invent digital marketing for Yahoo and other online pioneers, expects to put $750,000 of his fortune into the effort. During a recent national media blitz, he insisted voters would endorse his plan as a serious bid to bring accountability and efficiency to a sprawling and perplexing government.

“The Internet has disrupted a lot of industries, and it has changed a lot of things, and I think that it might be not a bad idea to have six fresh states that can respond well to this new world we live in,” he said in an interview with Time.

The initiative calls for the reorganization of California’s 163,696 square miles and 38 million people into six states, from north to south:

• “Jefferson” would include northernmost rural counties.

• “North California” would hold greater Sacramento, Marin, and Sonoma counties.

• “Silicon Valley” would enclose, well, Silicon Valley: the Bay Area, down to Monterey County.

• “Central California” would contain the Central Valley.

• “West California” would be us: SB, SLO, and Ventura counties plus, um, L.A.

• “South California” would consist of San Diego and Orange County.

“People’s identity might be an issue,” Draper acknowledged. “But once they get over that, I think they’re going to start thinking, ‘what would my state look like? And what could be better? And how should it be governed?’ And then it’s just a matter of doing crowdsourcing on what the flag’s going to look like and what the state bird is and what the state constitution looks like.”

We can see The Indy headline already:

“Red-Throated Loon or Blue-Footed Booby: Helene, Salud Clash Over New State Bird.”

To be sure, Draper’s plan is all but certain to suffer the same sad fate of all the scores of other break-up-the-state bids since California entered the union in 1850: “Our roads are not passable, hardly jackassable,” for example, was a key slogan of a 1941 campaign, mounted by residents of rural northern counties to create the original state of Jefferson, which World War II derailed.

As a political matter, the initiative requires not only a majority vote in California but also approval from both houses of Congress. That would represent a considerable challenge: For starters, each new state would send its own pair of senators to Washington, increasing the size of that body from 100 to 120 while scrambling its ideological and partisan makeup in unknowable ways; it’s hard to imagine incumbents approving such change as a priority.

As a policy matter, the initiative is better termed the Lawyers Relief Act of 2014, given the exquisitely complex arguments it would spin off over matters like population, taxation, and water, for starters, all but ensuring a decades-deep quagmire of litigation. At 1,985 words, the proposal is deceptively simple; the non-partisan Legislative Analyst issued a report on some of its implications and, at 5,013 words, barely scratched the surface.

Among other findings, the analyst projected wide wealth discrepancies among the six new states. Silicon Valley would be by far the richest, with a per capita income of $63,288 and Central the poorest, at $33,150 (West California checks in third, at $44,900).

These calculations, along with other sizeable differences estimated about school finance, tax burdens, welfare caseloads, and prison populations is fueling widespread commentary, debate, and in some cases, outrage in the political community and among academics, business leaders, and legal scholars.

Draper insists his proposal is only a framework to begin making the radical, political, and economic changes needed in California, which he calls “ungovernable” because each state would have the power and opportunity to design its own operating structure.

Here’s a suggestion: Let’s boot L.A. out of West California. If six states are good, seven will be even better.

The text of the Six States initiative is tinyurl.com/kgcb2z5.

The Legislative Analyst report is tinyurl.com/m4k7qwd.

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