Critics of California split see dystopian visions


By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — Most critics of wealthy political activist Tim Draper’s initiative to slice up California into six states have depicted this as an interesting “thought experiment” designed mainly to spark some discussion about our arguably “ungovernable” current state. Some critics, however, have been apoplectic about the idea.

A NEW CALIFORNIA: California is the most populous state and the third-largest state, geographically. One of its 58 counties is larger geographically than the nine smallest U.S. states – and larger than the four smallest ones combined.

An article in Huffington Post argues that “6 California’s” would be “a dystopian nightmare,” with writer Kathleen Miles raising dark visions from the novel, “Atlas Shrugged”: “It would be Ayn Rand’s dream come true: separate states for rich people and poor people. (I)t’s just the latest troubling sign that the rich are … increasingly seeking to break away from the middle- and lower-classes, depriving them of tax revenue and choking off much-needed resources.”

I can’t think of many signs that the rich are fleeing the poor, let alone that America is turning into “Atlas Shrugged,” but Miles is sure something nefarious is going on.

In Rand’s not-so-subtle plot, wealthy entrepreneurs get so tired of being regulated and taxed to benefit “looters” (e.g., government officials, welfare recipients, crony capitalists) that they quietly opt out of society. They build a new “state” in Galt’s Gulch. As they take their money and talents with them, the remaining society disintegrates.

But the Miles thesis, based on noticeable differences in poverty rates between some of the new states, only works on the most superficial level. Yes, Draper is a venture capitalist who would emerge as a kingpin in the newly formed and ultra-wealthy state of Silicon Valley. But Tim Draper as John Galt (the lead “Atlas” character) misses the central fact that doesn’t quite fit the liberal dark vision.

Large numbers of rich conservatives aren’t trying to divorce themselves from the poor, liberal masses, as Miles supposes. Rather, less-affluent conservative-minded people are the ones most likely to file for divorce from California’s wealthy liberals – and some have been wanting to do so for a very long time. It’s the opposite of what the HuffPo writer asserts. Poorer regions want to be freed from richer ones.

Draper has been pushing a statewide initiative — originally slated for November 2014, but more likely to be ready for the November 2016 ballot — that would divide this 38-million-population state into six separate states. California is the most populous state and the third-largest state, geographically. One of its 58 counties is larger geographically than the nine smallest U.S. states – and larger than the four smallest ones combined.

Since the state’s beginnings, people have proposed efforts to chop it up into smaller parts – so the Draper idea isn’t really unusual. The state varies dramatically in terms of geography (mountains, deserts, agricultural valleys, wealthy coastal suburbs, dense cities), politics and culture. Currently, the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area are so heavily populated that people in other regions feel as if they have no say in their state government — and those metro areas are very liberal politically. Draper argues that the state is ungovernable and that letting different regions go their own way will help break the dominance of those two areas and promote self-government.

His plan is to create six states. The far-north rural counties would become the state of Jefferson – named after a secession movement that got its start around World War II and continues to this day. It even has its own flag. The agriculturally oriented Central Valley (along with the Sierra Nevada Mountains and “Gold Rush” foothills) would be Central California. The Sacramento area and Napa wine country would be included in North California. The Bay Area would be its own state called Silicon Valley. Los Angeles and some of the wealthy Central Coast would be West California. The rest of Southern California would be South California.

My biggest question is why Draper, a politically independent entrepreneur, would want to be in a state with San Francisco. But combining that deep blue area into one state would certainly make it easier for the other new states.

Of the six states, Jefferson has the highest poverty rate (20.8 percent), yet it is the state that, as mentioned, already has a full-blown secessionist movement. If HuffPo were correct, then this most-impoverished region would be most opposed to Draper’s idea – yet its residents have been itching to leave for decades.

One also might sense secessionist fervor in the poor but agriculturally lush San Joaquin Valley, which would be the heart and soul of Central California. Farmers in those parts are tired of having their water controlled by voters in places such as LA and San Jose rather than, say, Fresno. For a sense of the anger, check out the ubiquitous protest signs that line the 5 freeway along the arid, western edge of the valley, where farmers complain of state and federal efforts to take away “their” water.

Again, this is one of the most economically troubled regions in the state and a region most eager to go its own way.

Even Riverside County supervisors have voted in favor of exploring the creation of a new state. That county would be part of Draper’s wealthy, coastal South California, but many people in the Inland Empire, the more arid and blue-collar areas where Riverside is located, would be happy to be disconnected, politically speaking, from the enthusiasms of Santa Monica and East LA.

New boundaries wouldn’t stop them from catching a Dodger’s game or flying to San Francisco for a concert, but it would allow this more conservative area to pursue policies better suited to its largely suburban, right-leaning region.

Draper’s Silicon Valley along with West California and North California would become even bigger petri dishes for the “progressive” policies that dominate the Capitol. They would get much more of what they have now, which brings to mind Mencken’s saying that democracy is the theory that the people deserve to get what they want, “good and hard.”

Congress would have to approve the new states, and one can imagine that many of them would not welcome another 10 senators from post-California. The “6 California’s” idea, though, is not about changing the national political dynamic. It’s about providing better representation for the people who live in each state and giving them the means to better chart their own political future. Each new state could pursue policies that best suited their own voters without being so dominated by two mega-metropolitan areas and their odd priorities.

For instance, efforts to tax and even ban hydraulic fracturing are coming almost entirely from coastal enclaves, whereas residents of Kern County and other parts of the state’s agricultural heartland are eager for the high-paying jobs and local revenues. Democrats and Republicans there would like to develop their oil resources, but are being stymied by the concerns of big-city environmental priorities. That’s just one of many examples of how the current set up is holding back entire regions.

The United States was formed by colonists who revolted against a distant empire that had become out of touch and oppressive. The resulting system of federalism is based on the idea that small political units govern better than big, far-off ones because they are closer to the people. There’s nothing sacrosanct about any existing boundaries, and this has nothing to do with the rich trying to offload the poor or any such dystopian Ayn-Rand-inspired future. To many Californians breaking up would let them escape what they view as a dystopian present.

Steven Greenhut is a contributor to