Love It or Leave It

So, a member of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors – Jeff Stone, a Republican – has proposed splitting the state of California, with San Diego and the largely rural, Republican-leaning south east of the state becoming “South California,” and LA remaining with the liberal coast and northern part of the state. You can follow the link to the LA Times for the map of what his proposal would look like. Secession proposals of this nature are a hardy perennial on the Left and Right alike, and are almost always bad ideas, although there is at least a fair argument that California as currently constituted is (1) too large any longer to serve the role of responding to local needs unmet from Washington that is a major part of why we have a federal system in the first place (as the LAT notes, “[t]he proposed 51st state would be the fifth largest by population, more populous than Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania”), (2) essentially dysfunctional, and (3) particularly unresponsive to the needs of the 13 million residents of the 13 counties in question.
But what’s really interesting here isn’t a proposal by one member of the board of one county, but rather the response by a spokesman for Governor Jerry Brown:

“If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there’s a place called Arizona,” Brown spokesman Gil Duran said.

Now, I don’t know about you, but saying that millions of residents should just leave the state if they don’t like California’s liberal laws, dysfunctional finances and horrendous business climate doesn’t really disprove the point that the Sacramento elite really and truly do not care about the Republican-leaning parts of the state or the people in them. California’s unemployment rate is 11.7% compared to 9.1% for the nation as a whole (given California’s size, I’d guess without doing the math that means the rest of the country may be as much as a full three points below CA). Even the NY Times says California’s budget crisis may be the worst in the nation, with a $26.6 billion budget deficit comprising nearly a third of the state’s budget. California owes $2,362 in debt per resident of the state, and pays a 20% premium to borrow money compared to better-run states; its A- credit rating from Standard & Poor’s is the worst in the nation. A recent budget deal only barely convinced S&P to avoid an immediate further downgrade, and S&P is still concerned that the deal doesn’t solve the state’s long-term “backlog of budget obligations accumulated during the past decade.”
Gov. Brown’s office may think that’s a record to get cocky about, but maybe it’s time California showed a little humility about the failures of its political culture and business climate, and learned a few things from its more conservative neighbors – and maybe even from some of its own citizens.

11 thoughts on “Love It or Leave It”

  1. Meantime, Gov. Brown is handing out sweetheart deals to the prison guards union that helped elect him, and continues to spend millions on a high-speed rail system that will only connect two Central Valley cowtowns. Furthermore, the late budget made firing teachers illegal, and moved the authority for doing so to the state level. And don’t get me started on the ballot initiative that launched an expensive, unfunded mandate to fund stem cell research.

  2. I bet the heavily Republican areas north of the Bay Area wouldn’t want to be part of an even more liberal state if the southern part gets to split off. So in order to get a bipartisan agreement to split the state, you’d have to split it in four: two Democratic states and two Republican ones. Given how disfunctional the state is, I probably wouldn’t mind, but I can’t see it happening.

  3. You should do a follow-up post on how that might affect the baseball market. “Northern California” would have 4 of the 5 California baseball teams, leaving Southern California with the Padres.

  4. How about if all of NY outside the five boroughs became North New York? If all of Illinois outher than “Chicagoland” became South Illinois? If Austin became the “Free State of Texas”? If Alabama and Mississippi merged to become “Third World”?

  5. Or we can just divide the country by baseball loyalties. Check out this map.
    At the very least, it botches CT. The southern half of Connecticut should be with the Yankees. I’d be horrified as a member of Red Sox nation. I would request asylum in Yankeeland.

  6. Ken – That’s why proposals for splitting the Ninth Circuit usually include those. It would be harder to redraw the whole state map in that way. In any event, I agree that nothing like this would happen in the real world absent some larger political compromise in which both sides get something (eg, a Representative for DC).
    Magrooder – As I said, I generally don’t think much of these ideas. One of the problems with the sorts of splits you identify is that they tend to create at least one small, unviable jurisdiction. Ask the residents of Gaza how well that works. Or even West Virginia for much of its history.
    The case for splitting California begins with its massive size, and the proposal here would create two states, with the smaller of the two becoming the fifth largest state, with an argicultural base and a major port. That’s what makes it at least viable enough to discuss with a straight face.
    (Texas, of course, famously has the right by treaty to split itself into as many as four states if it chooses)

  7. It’s not just that California is too big, it’s that the vast majority of it’s population lies in areas too far from other states so that their political systems and results can be used as an effective counter-balance against runaway government.
    If you look at what Andrew Cuomo is doing with the public sector unions and the anti-energy drilling environmentalists in New York, while he may not admit it, a large part of that is no doubt due to what governors and legislatures in nearby states are doing. It’s harder to hold the hammer down on the taxpayers to keep contributing more money so that state workers can maintain their plush pension and benefits packages if you’ve got Chris Christie across the Hudson making major reforms. And it’s hard to keep that environmentalist-demanded total ban on fracking in place, if job-short residents in the shale drilling formation areas upstate are watching Pennsylvania add thousands of new jobs.
    California doesn’t have those limits. If you have a business that needs to be on the Pacific Coast, you’ve got one state controlling 800 miles of coastline. And all the potential onshore and offshore drilling areas that are on the ban list are going to stay there, because there’s no nearby state without those bans that local residents can see adding thousands of new jobs. California’s nearest competition is Arizona and Nevada, where in terms of mileage Phoenix and Las Vegas are to the Pacific Coast what Cleveland and Lexington, Ky., are to the Atlantic Coast.
    Split California into two parts and odd are you’re not going to get another Texas out of the non-coastal areas — at best you’d get something on the lines of Ohio. But it would still create competition for the current liberal government from a state that would be able to draw commuters and/or businesses away from their state, while still remaining in the same general area.

  8. I’ll trade a rep for DC in the House if this means that the GIANT electoral pie piece known as California suddenly becomes split. It makes the blue section of Cali bluer and suddenly frees up what 20 electoral votes? This reminds me of the California state referendum that considered moving to the Maine-Nebraska model. I jokingly posted about this in the past on my own blog.
    This is just another instance of people being upset with a political class that they view as disconnected to their lives and having no way of venting that frustration.

  9. By removing the poorly-performing, high-unemployment conservative-Republican counties from California, like Fresno, we’d lower the net unemployment rate of the state AND get rid of the backwards areas of the state. They’d actually have to perform on their own, and would no longer leech off the productive areas of the state like LA and the Bay Area.
    When do we start? Can we evict them?

  10. @MVH – As proposed, South California would have the Angels, too. Though I think they’d need to give up on the LA Angels of Anaheim name business if LA was actually in a different state than Anaheim.

  11. Dave,
    Good catch – without really looking hard, I assumed the Angels would be in the north.

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