California Breakup: What’s Old is New Again

In Tuesday’s special election California voters rejected the political establishment’s $16 billion in higher taxes by a nearly two-to-one margin. Defeat of Propositions 1A through 1E means the state budget’s $15.4 billion river of red ink will deepen to a projected $21.3 billion.  The current budget debacle has once again raised the governance question and resurrected an old yet still radical idea – the breaking up of California into smaller more accountable government units.

While currently garnering a great deal of buzz, this is far from a new idea.  In fact it is the latest revision of 27 prior attempts with most attempts never getting far off the ground. The last serious attempt was made by Republican Assemblyman Stan Statham in the early 1990s. The most famous secession movement came in 1941, when several counties in Northern California and southern Oregon tried to form the State of Jefferson – until World War II intervened.

Two distinct prosals are circulating on the web. Former Assemblyman Bill Maze, is suggesting that two Californias are more easily governed than one. His proposal would split California in two: the conservative interior as one state and the liberal coast as another.  The second proposal would split California into four distinct states with populations more typical of other US States.  The political units would be:

  • San Diego/Orange County/Inland Empire (socially conservative, Hispanic, heavily military)
  • Greater LA (Hollywood and Hispanics, very liberal)
  • San Francisco/Silicon Valley (Liberal, but very dynamic and market oriented)
  • Central (Conservative, Kansas-like)

The proposals may be little more than a political scientist’s late night fantasy and experts argue that the proposal doesn’t have a chance of working, but in what looks to be an era of reform and severe voter dissatisfaction, never say never.


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