As most of my readers know, although I now live in the Missouri Wine Country, I spent the first 30 years of my life in California and have more insight into the state’s history and political situation than the other states of the Union that I am frequently asked about.
Culturally, California has five or six distinct regions and there have been secessionist movements within the state since the time it became a territory of the United States. Around the time of the Civil War, Californians overwhelmingly lobbied for the state to be split in two, but the federal government had its hands tied with trying to hold the country together and the California split wasn’t given serious consideration in Washington.
Those five or six distinct regions of California have different reasons for wanting to split into their own states. Some (the extreme counties of Northern California near the Oregon border along with the Northern California coast) feel so far removed from the rest of the state politically end economically that they see themselves as shut off from the state government apparatus. The citizens of the region of California that has long tried to form a separate state called “Jefferson” feel that Southern California is as foreign to them as Canada is. Among other reasons that Californians support partition are the constant battle over water resources between Northern California and Southern California and the fact that the Sierra counties, Desert counties, and even some of the agricultural centers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys feel either underrepresented in state government or simply out-muscled by the major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Sacramento.
Do I think it’s a good idea? I don’t think the proposal to partition California into six different states is a good idea because it’s simply not feasible. In order for an idea to be good (in my opinion), it must be possible. The six-state partition is just not going to happen — how will California’s natural resources be divvied up? How will water be allocated? Where do the prisoners which severely overcrowd every single prison in the state go to?— the nearest facility to where the crime was committed?; the facility that they are currently incarcerated?; who foots the bill for the prison facilities?
But, with that said, there would be benefits to partitioning California into two states — Northern and Southern California. Already, the two halves of the state are about as different as two regions within one state can be. Californians already identify themselves by the section of the state they are from. Infrastructure is in place that would allow the two parts of the state to split somewhat equally in every area except water allocation (Southern California needs water from Northern California to survive, that’s a fact). Some of the same issues involved in a six-state partition remain, but the solutions aren’t quite as daunting if California is split in two.
Why even consider splitting the state into two after over 160 years of statehood? Well, California is home to nearly 40 million citizens and, quite frankly, that’s probably way too many people for one centralized state government to effectively manage. I think that’s one of the problems that the state has faced over the past 30 years — the population is just too unwieldly. California has the area, the population, and the economic base of a large, wealthy foreign country. Yet, one state government is charged with administering California — no different, really, than the state government system in a place like Wyoming which has a fraction of the population. The population growth in California isn’t slowing down anytime soon — can the already creaky government in Sacramento keep up with the pace and continue managing the whole state? Indications from the last three decades do not inspire optimism.
Will partition of California ever happen? I doubt it. The water allocation issue itself will probably dynamite any serious discussions about it. Plus, California can’t even figure out a way forward with building high-speed rail — a sure-fire investment in the state’s future which would create jobs, change the nature of travel within the state, and likely have significant positive impacts on the environment and economy. If the state can’t deliver on a slam-dunk like high-speed rail, I doubt California will ever be able to deliver on splitting the state into two, let alone partitioning it into six new states.