In case you haven’t heard, there’s a curious measure on the California ballot this November. The proposal would split California into three different states that would be separately governed. The last time that happened with an existing state was 1863, when loyalist West Virginia broke off from secessionist Virginia during the Civil War.
The three new states that would be created by the proposal are “Northern California,” which runs from the northern border of the current state to the middle of the state and includes cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento, “Southern California,” which runs from the middle of the state down to the border with Mexico and includes cities like San Diego, Anaheim, and Fresno, and “California,” which is geographically much smaller in size and encompasses California’s crowded coastal area, running from Long Beach in the south up to Monterey in the middle of the state and including Los Angeles. Whatever else you might think of the proposal, I think we can all agree it fails miserably in the “creative state naming” area.
The ballot measure was spearheaded and funded by a venture capitalist who apparently has made it his life’s mission to break California up. Previously, he tried to split the state into six parts — which he now thinks was just too many for voters to stomach. “This is a chance for three fresh approaches to government,” he told a newspaper in an interview. “Three new states could become models not only for the rest of the country, but for the whole world.”
When I was out in California recently, I asked some people about the ballot measure and what they thought. I didn’t find any proponents, but did find people who were worried less about becoming models for the world and more about practical things — like water, which is a pretty scarce commodity in what would be “Southern California” and is primarily supplied by “Northern California.” There also would be challenging questions involved in allocating infrastructure and accounting for its cost. And the people I spoke to also indicated that they like the Golden State the way it is — a big, sprawling, incredibly diverse state that offers lots of different climates and geographical areas and encompasses some of the country’s most iconic cities.
Even if California voters pass the measure, the break-up apparently would need to be approved by Congress, which would be no sure thing. It’s not at all clear that other parts of the country would want to add four new Senators from the west coast — or two more stars to the national flag. Fifty is a good, round number. 52? Not so much.