June 28, 2018
NEW YORK—This November, California is gonna vote on dividing itself into three states.
That doesn’t go nearly far enough, in my opinion. I would encourage all you restless Californians to endlessly subdivide, like reverse amoebas, until all 40 million of you have your own state. Isn’t that the California way?
First of all, what is this thing where, once a year, we have to focus on some wackadoodle idea of what the new laws should be in California? Apparently they have some system whereby, if you get enough people to sign a petition, you can put “A Law Requiring All Citizens of the Golden State to Wear Turquoise Shorts on Alternate Thursdays” on the ballot.
And actually, a turquoise-shorts amendment would probably pass in California, simply because it sounds good when approached through a marijuana haze.
But the busybody in this case is one Tim Draper, a billionaire Silicon Valley investor who collects Bitcoin and still believes that Theranos is going to revolutionize the blood-testing industry while company founder Elizabeth Holmes heads to prison in one of the largest fraud cases ever brought by the SEC.
Tim tried this once before. Back in 2014 he tried to force an initiative onto the ballot that would have broken California into six states. Unfortunately 70,000 of his signatures were disqualified by a court when it was revealed that the people didn’t exist—Tim, you really have to start vetting your partners—and so he revised his reorganization plan to a mere trio of mini-Californias, to be named…
Northern California: the largest chunk, including San Francisco, Sacramento, the redwood forests all the way up to Oregon, the mountains over toward Nevada including the Tahoe snow bunnies, and, of course, all the counties south of San Francisco that involve the tech industry.
Southern California: Oddly enough, this does not include El Lay. It’s all the farmers in the Central Valley, plus San Diego, plus Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino, and, of course, the Mojave Desert and every oasis on the way to Vegas. Talk about a wicked boundary line—this looks like an attempt to create the nation’s first 98 percent Republican state.
And finally, we have…
California: El Lay gets to save money on address changes by retaining the original state name. And they also get everything up the coast, Santa Barbara all the way to Monterey, but nothing to the east or south because those counties are needed for the Richard Nixon Memorial State called Southern California.
Asked to explain why California needs to do this, supporters of “Cal 3” always use the word “ungovernable.” California has become impossible to govern. Just ask Schwarzenegger. If Conan the Barbarian couldn’t get it done, who could?
There are tensions in the state, they say. There are hassles and bad vibes, the kind of scene that would cause Peter Fonda to climb aboard his Captain America chopper and head east. The populated areas on the coast don’t understand the farming communities in the west. Silicon Valley and Hollywood can’t get along. San Diego has too many, you know, military guys to get with the whole California program.
I had no idea it had gotten this bad in an American state—people with different points of view forced to live in close proximity.
You know what might help with that? Wyoming seems to have it together. I mean, yeah, sometimes Laramie has a spat with Casper, but it can all be smoothed over with a barbecue. So maybe the magic number is 579,315 people—the ideal population to make statehood bearable.
So let’s give it a shot. If we carved California into states with no more than 580,000 people per state, we would have 68 new states—man, the star field on the flag is gonna be a mess!—and we could use Big Data from dating sites to make sure everybody in each state makes the same amount of money, shops at the same stores, and falls at about the same place on the Donald Trump Love-Hate scale. Sure, there would be inequities—I hate the idea of the State of Oxnard getting almost all the strawberries—but it would make it so much easier to ignore Needles and Calexico.
Unfortunately, something tells me that the creation of 136 new members of the Senate from present-day California might cause consternation in Rhode Island.
So maybe we should use a Rhode Island model. Since we’re kind of out of practice in the business of new-state creation—59 years since Hawaii joined up, 155 years since we carved a new state out of Virginia—we could assuage the fears of smaller states by limiting land area to the 776,957 acres of Rhode Island, which makes sense because Roger Williams went there to establish freedom from the “ungovernable” Massachusetts.
So let’s do the math on that. Even better! California divided into Rhode Islands would create 129 new states so homogeneous that all we would have to worry about would be Van Nuys inbreeding.
But once again, we have those 258 new senatorial seats. It would require a rebuild of the Capitol and, while that was going on, the senators would have to bring collapsible beach chairs.
When I was growing up I used to grab a book off my father’s bookshelf called The Five States of Texas, and it was mostly about regional differences, but it was based on the agreement made by Sam Houston in 1845 that, if the Republic of Texas gave up its sovereignty and joined the Union, it would have the right to divide itself into five states at some later date. You’ll still find blowhards in Texas roadhouses talking about “Oh yeah, we have that right, we can divide any ole time we want to.” It’s one of those everlasting Texas myths, like “It’s illegal to drive barefoot.” But the fact is, once you decide to leave the Union and join the Confederacy, they don’t come back to you after the war is over and say, “By the way, would you like all your charter privileges back again?”