California’s future: Partition, secession, or continuation. We Californians seem to be a restless breed, unlike — say — Iowans or Nebraskans. To begin with, most of us moved here from somewhere else. We were lured by a dynamic economy, fantastic vistas, wonderful weather, or a love of earthquakes. California, it seems, has something for everyone.
By contrast, who would ever move to either Iowa or Nebraska by choice? Failing a “relocation subsidy” of a million dollars or a gun to my head, I really can’t see myself as a happy resident of Des Moines or Lincoln. But still, I’d have to weigh all that money or a longer life against sub-freezing temperatures half the year and no ocean. Moreover, the glow of golden corn on the cob becomes somewhat dull compared to the glories of the Golden State: Yosemite National Park, Disneyland, giant redwoods, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, and the Fresno River bed, which still has a few puddles. Yet, with all this, some people want to change our state by dividing it or converting it to an independent country.
That idea of partitioning California is not new; the first division of the territory occurred right after the Mexican-American War in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, Alta California (the upper section) was ceded to the United States as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Baja California (the lower portion) remained under the control of the Mexican government.
Five years after statehood, the California Assembly decided that representation in Congress was too small for such a large chunk of the country, and the state capital was too remote from the geographical extremes. So, in 1855, the plan was to create the State of Colorado from the southern border to Monterey on the coast, Merced in the valley, and part of Mariposa in the mountains.
The State of Shasta would be fashioned from the counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, Modoc, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Lassen, Tehama, Plumas, and parts of Butte, Colusa, and Mendocino. Only the mid-section would be California. The bill failed in the Senate because of certain issues, like the southern states’ desire to admit “Colorado,” to the union as a “slave state” under the provisions of the Missouri Compromise. (During that time, the current State of Colorado was part of various U.S. territories: New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska.)
Toward the end of the 19th century, there was serious discussion about dividing the state at the “natural boundary” of the Tehachapi Mountains. But that debate ended with the construction of the Ridge Route (today, Interstate 5) through the Tejon Pass.
During the 20th century, there were at least three major attempts to divide the state into smaller units, but each died before leaving the legislature. Some folks wanted to divide the state in half horizontally; others vertically (creating an East California and a West or Coastal California).
The last plan of that century was submitted by Assemblyman Stan Statham who proposed that each county should vote on a referendum that would create three states: North California, South California, and Central California. That bill, too, died in the Senate.
In the 21st century, we’ve witnessed the resurgence of the potential State of Jefferson, a mostly rural area that would be carved out of northern California and southern Oregon. The appellation “Jefferson” was chosen because of our third president, who sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1803. It is rumored that Jefferson, himself, envisioned a “Republic of the Pacific,” in contradistinction to the prevailing sentiment of manifest destiny.
If Jefferson were to come into existence, it would be composed of the eight counties in Oregon that are clustered around the state’s southern border and perhaps as many as 21 counties of California that lie north of Sacramento. The area would have a smaller land mass than West Virginia and, according to the 2010 Census, would have a population of less than 500,000 — tiniest in the union.
Although several counties in California have officially petitioned for recognition of the new state, no county in Oregon has taken that initiative. Perhaps the new impetus has been spurred by the effects of the 2016 election in which Hillary Clinton dominated in California, but was “trumped” in the vast majority of the counties that would constitute Jefferson.
In January of this year, a proposal for California to secede from the United States was submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. Borrowing from Great Britan’s “Brexit” from the European Union, supporters of the petition dubbed the possible secession, “Calexit.”
The movement’s leaders, Jed Wheeler and Marcus Ruiz Evans, believed that California would be better off going it alone as a separate country. After all, during at least the past two decades the state would have been among the wealthiest nations in the world (bouncing around between the fourth largest and the seventh largest economies). As Wheeler told Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times, “We can solve our own problems and don’t need to wait on a government 3,000 miles away.”
This is far from an original idea. The Lompoc Record states, “We did a little research and discovered that in the past 160 years-plus there have been more than 200 attempts at secession or some other geo-political shakeup or bifurcation. None of those efforts came close.”
The latest secessionist attempt needed nearly 600,000 signatures to get on the November ballot and claimed to have “thousands of volunteers in 82 chapters across the state,” which had such variations in reporting to Sacramento that there was no certainty in the actual number of qualified signatures that had been collected. Evans told the L.A. Times, “Some are mailing them in. Some are holding them. Some are taking them directly to their county registrar of voters.”
Apparently, the sum of all methods was insufficient, and the petition was withdrawn on April 17. It probably didn’t help that Louis Marinelli, one of the founders of the movement, relocated to teach English in Russia, where he appeared at a Kremlin-backed pro-secession conference in Moscow.
While California may not be devolving into separate states or leaving the rest of America, California residents are leaving California in greater number than are other people moving to the Golden State, according to the latest Census Bureau estimate. Is this a trend reversal?