California carve-up

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a triple play.

They say that as California goes, so goes the nation.

But how would the nation go if it had three Californias to contend with?

MARY REICHARD, HOST: That may sound a little, well, crazy, but it’s actually pretty serious.

In November, voters in California will consider whether to split their state into three new ones. Last week, the California Secretary of State’s office approved a general ballot initiative to permit the vote.

This will be the first time since the Civil War a vote like this has taken place in California.

EICHER: WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg is here now with a report on what the funder of the initiative is calling “CAL-3.” 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Jeffrey Burnell has lived all over the state of California.

BURNELL: There’s just so much to do and I just really enjoy it.

Burnell has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and now Orange County. Coincidentally, that means he’s spent time in what would be the three new states of Northern California, California and Southern California, if a ballot initiative to split the state up is successful in November.

Burnell says he can see the state is becoming more and more divided.

BURNELL: We’re so diverse and that’s not a bad thing, but what I really sense also there is a lot of very strong opinions. The north has things that are important to them. The south has things that are important to them and they may not agree.

Those political differences are supposedly why billionaire Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper is pushing the three state initiative he calls “CAL3.” A few years ago, he also sponsored a six state initiative. Draper told Fox’s Tucker Carlson that the Golden State has become ungovernable and smaller states would be more efficient.

DRAPER: I mean it takes up the same land mass as 15 states on the East Coast. The population is the equivalent of the average of six or seven states. It’s appropriate to have California represented by at least three states.

The new Northern California state would stretch from the Bay Area, north to the Oregon border and east to Nevada. A new Southern California state would skirt the coast from Monterey past Las Angeles but encompass everything from San Diego to Nevada and Arizona. The state of California would include the greater Los Angeles area.

Draper says a split would force the new state governments to compete for citizens and make better policy.

DRAPER: I think that these three new states are going to empower people to realize what’s possible in government… California is kind of a monopoly. Nobody wants to leave but we’re stuck with the same government that we’ve had for all these years.

More than 600,000 Californians agree. That’s how many signed a petition to put “CAL3” on the November ballot. And it only needed 400,000.

Still, those 600,000 people are a fraction of the majority needed to pass the initiative, and an April poll says only 17 percent of Californians are in favor of separating. A whopping 72 percent oppose the idea.

The poll also shows this is not a partisan issue. 67 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats oppose the move.

Many Californians feel like Jeffrey Burnell. He doesn’t see how splitting will solve the state’s problems.

BURNELL: I imagine there will be added costs to it, and who’s going to absorb those? Of course the people will.

Costs like creating whole new governments, untangling interconnected parks, prisons and waterways.

The state’s university system is another concern. Cynthia Rocha lives near Fresno. She has a teenage son getting ready for college.

ROCHA: That really messes up our UC and our California state college system, which would result in out-of-state taxes where previously that wasn’t the case.

Bill Garaway lives in Santa Cruz. His concern is how a split would affect national politics. Creating two new states would add four new U.S. Senators. It’s likely Northern California and California’s delegation would remain Democratic. Southern California would be a swing state. The split would also affect the electoral college.

GARAWAY: I don’t see any positives whatsoever.

So if Burnell, Rocha and Garaway had to vote today?

BURNELL: I can’t say that I know yet honestly.

Rocha: I’m definitely one of those individuals who is opposed.

GARAWAY: Oh, uh, definitely no. 

Then there’s voters like Jodi Brenemen who lives in L.A. She’d be concerned about how the split would affect the economy and what relations between the new states would be like. But she also likes the idea of cutting back bureaucracy.

BRENEMEN: I would actually rather be smaller areas kind of managing themselves because they know what people need in those specific areas.

So if Brenemen had to vote today? She’s on the fence but leaning towards a yes.

BRENEMEN: I say that with a grin of like yeah, but I don’t know.

Even if CAL3 passed, Congress would have to approve the split—another longshot. But some Democrats are forming an opposition campaign anyway, because between now and November, anything is possible.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

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WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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