Friday, June 15, 2018

Three Californias - it was interesting to contemplate in the abstract but would be a signficant gamble

In June 2005 the Three Californias website was created:

The front page above explains why the website was created.

As of June 13, 2018, an initiative ballot measure to split California into three states qualified for the ballot according to the California Secretary of State.

[Because the measure proposes to create one of the states as "California", for clarity I'll use in this post the designations for the three new states that appear on the measure's website "NorCal", "SoCal", and "Cal" while continuing to use "California" for the existing state.]

The headlines that resulted from the certification of the measure by the Secretary of State were predictable:
The top headline is a reasonably balanced AP story.

The second headline in Bloomberg News is not true, apparently written by someone who is uninformed. It isn't Tim Draper's dream proposal. His dream proposal first advanced in 2014 was to divide California into six states. He failed to qualify that measure for the ballot.

The last phrase of the third headline above - seen as unlikely - is not a foregone conclusion. 

Draper's proposal if approved by the voters has a chance despite major interest group opposition. And it appears it will be the only chance to redesign state and local government for the next century. As noted in the AP story:

    Backers of the measure argue California has become "ungovernable" because of its economic and geographic diversity as well as its population approaching 40 million people.
    The measure aims to create states with relatively equal populations and economic strengths.
    Draper argues that California has become "nearly ungovernable" because of its diverse economies and population. He and backers also argue that voters outside of large urban areas such as Los Angeles are underserved in Sacramento because so many state lawmakers come from major cities.
    "Breaking the state into three smaller, more manageable states means those states will be more responsible and more responsive," said Peggy Grande, a Cal 3 spokeswoman.

Draper learned from his mistakes in 2014 and appears to have examined how to design a measure. With that said, the chance to make its way through all the legal and political hurdles that splitting an existing state faces will depend entirely on unrelated occurrences. For instance, the consideration of the idea by Congress in the 1850's following California's admission to the Union was halted by the Civil War. And an effort in the 1930's was ended by WWII.

Draper's Cal 3 website offers a summary of the three states in terms of economics and population:

Among the 52 states, instead of being the largest in population SoCal would be #4 and NoCal would be #5 behind Texas, Florida, and New York followed by Illinois and Pennsylvania with Cal being #8.

Among the 52 states, instead of California being the third largest in area behind Alaska and Texas, SoCal would be #16, NorCal would be #20, and Cal would be #43.

Among the 52 states, instead of California have the largest economy by far, NorCal would rank #3 behind Texas and New York, with Cal ranked #6 and SoCal #9.

However, instead of ranking #9 in per capita personal income, NorCal would be ranked #2 behind only Connecticut (retaining very significant income disparity), while Cal would be #12 (with similar disparities), and SoCal would be #30 (below the national average).

The question for Californians is whether they want to continue things the way they are for their state and local government well into the 21st Century or completely redesign their government. This isn't about identity, it is about the statistical truths as explained on the Cal 3 website

The fact is the misinformation campaign has already started in the press. In an article in the Sacramento Bee we are told: "A tech billionaire's proposal to split California into three states would, at least in the short term, likely put more Democrats in the U.S. Senate, according to a Bee review of voter registration and election data." And we are offered these graphs:

Those graphs are statistically accurate. But in the 2008 election in which Obama won in all three of the proposed new states, Proposition 8 Banning Gay Marriage won in SoCal with a 61.6%  "yes" vote and won in Cal with a 50.1% "yes" vote. It was defeated only in NorCal with a 50.1% "no" vote. So at the same time Cal voters were overwhelmingly voting for Obama, they voted to ban gay marriage.

And the 2004 Presidential Election results looked like this:

In other words, it is not possible to predict what the political orientation of the new three states would be except to say SoCal is likely to lean Republican and conservative.

Most importantly, we must remember that established institutions will oppose the measure.

The initiative measure to divide the state isn't exactly the same as our 2005 proposal as can be seen in this graphic:

Several key differences are troublesome. The 2005 proposal attempts to keep geographic regions together including the Southwestern-desert-climate influenced counties of Southern California and the counties of the Central Valley as defined by the Sierra Nevada watershed on the west and the Coast Range watershed on the east. The 2005 recommendation included a Coastal California based on keeping fisheries and other Pacific Ocean features together. Dividing the coastline in the middle of the Monterey Bay and at the Los Angeles County/Orange County line is troublesome.

Frankly, with the Trump administration wanting to open the coastline to oil drilling and challenging California's strong historical ties to Mexico and Asia, it seems risky to divide the state. Politically the Calexit proposal would give the State more clout in dealing with the United States government.

Then there are the cultural concerns. Probably no other statistics can tell us more about gut-level cultural differences than the 2008 results on Proposition 8 - The California Marriage Protection Act which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry until overturned by a court. Here is a comparison of the results of that election if the state were split under our 2005 proposal versus the 2018 ballot measure:

Using the Proposition 8 vote as tea leaves, one could conclude that the 2018 Initiative split would leave NorCal and Cal each with a liberal/conservative cultural split of about 50/50, creating two states with potentially significant hard-to-resolve cultural conflicts. SoCal would have a conservative cultural attitude.

Our 2005 Proposal was designed to create a NorCal with a conservative cultural attitude and a Coastal California with a liberal cultural attitude. SoCal would lean conservative.

One could argue that the 2018 initiative would force the two sides in NorCal and Cal to learn to work through differences. But it would leave both very vulnerable to influence from the Koch political network. It could be possible that instead of a large Blue State California being a bastion of liberal thought, two of the three states would become swing states while one would be Republican.

In other words, upon the implementation of the Cal 3 initiative, many California residents could find themselves in a state that has a different majority political and cultural orientation than exists today.

And that's the problem with making such a significant change. Again, it appears Draper's initiative  will be the only chance to redesign California state and local government for the next century.  But it is almost impossible to make any valid forecasts about the outcome of those changes.

Since two prior attempts at splitting the state were ended by the Civil War and WWII, it gives one a sense of foreboding. And yet, we do know that California is nearly ungovernable because of its large and diverse economy, population, and geography. In fact, "they" knew that back in 1850.

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