The Case for a New (Purple) California
Citizen influencer Tom Reed has a constitutional strategy to exit the Golden State’s botched leadership.
Tom Reed moved to Hopland, California in Mendocino County 10 years ago, before economic depression closed down the town’s only supermarket, elementary school and hardware store. In 2006, he ran for First District assemblyman as a libertarian, and lost, but in the process learned why California’s political system is so dysfunctional.
He saw the lack of representation for citizens “out in the sticks,” and the inability of citizens to use government to address local problems with local solutions. In looking for ways to increase the authority of his county relative to the state, Reed discovered that a 19th-century court ruling called Dillon’s Rule prevents municipal government in California from having much say at all. This made running for County Supervisor a losing proposition, and Reed swore to his wife that if he ever got into politics again, it would be to win.
Reed is now involved in a grassroots plan to divide California into two states. Rural counties (plus San Diego and Orange County) are uniting to demand fair representation and a constitutional split from the coastal bastions of hyper-progressivism from Marin County to Los Angeles. Old California would continue to operate from a central planning model, but New California would become a “home rule” state, in which counties would form the basic building blocks of authority — just as states are supposed to within a federal system of government.
Following a press push by New California leaders this week, a writer for New York Magazine gave a boost to one of the rationales behind the state split: disproportionately low representation for rural populations of large states in general.
The Case for New California
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@EricLevitz, the author of the piece, is a liberal, but admits that the absence of representation for rural Californians amounts to a form of tyranny by the U.S. Senate. However, he notes, the body is currently slanted in favor of the GOP, and splitting California in two would likely result in more Democratic senators (three or four, rather than the current two).
The upper chamber has become one of the most genuinely tyrannical institutions of our government. At the republic’s founding, the most populous state in the union was home to 11 times more people than the smallest; today, that disparity is more than six times as large: California’s 39 million residents have as much say in the Senate as Wyoming’s 585,500.
At present, about half the country lives in 40 of the nation’s states, with the other half packed into just ten. This population discrepancy doesn’t just give voters in small states vastly disproportionate power in the Senate, but also in the Electoral College. And the disparity is likely to grow ever more severe in the coming decades, as more and more Americans migrate from the rural heartland to the high-density cities where economic growth is now concentrated.
Despite its conservative leanings relative to the far-left coast, New California under the proposed boundaries would still be a moderately left-of-center state. The 15 million people within the actively engaged counties of the New California movement voted for Clinton in 2016. So much for right-wing dreams of a new solidly red state.
However, the new arrangement would make the Republican Party in New California relevant again, and force both Rs and Ds to offer real solutions rather than pander to their entrenched bases.
1975, Ernest Callenbach combined two overlapping but distinct worlds — Wild West and Left Coast — to form the basis for his fictional ideal society, Ecotopia. The book envisioned the secession of Northern California (along with Oregon and Washington) on environmentalist grounds, coloring in the conservative principle of self-governance with progressive values of egalitarianism and harmony with nature.
As of 2018, western secessionists are mainly divided between the reactionary “gun-toting rebels” of the proposed state of Jefferson, and the cosmopolitan CalExiters, who propose that California become an entirely new nation — a vanguard of “#TheResistance”. Hardly the stuff of utopian sci-fi, neither plan has traction with a majority of Californians, who simply want better schools, more responsive public officials, and a reasonable cost of living. Yet the growing sense is that many of the 35 million residents of the Golden State are not effectively represented at either the state or Federal level.
While some voices in the New California movement still identify with a more red-blooded “Jefferson State of Mind,” Reed is a pragmatist. Unlike these more ardent compatriots, he is comfortable with the idea of New California as a “purple state” — a place where no party has a monopoly like the Democrats in California, or Republicans in Oklahoma. This fits broadly within the libertarian ethos that politics should be a competitive enterprise.
A software engineer and systems designer, Reed hopes to see decentralized “blockchain” technology integrated into whatever new political formations arise from the experiment in county-based self-governance. All participants in the movement are fed up with California’s out-of-touch legislature, and are looking for new leadership to restore fiscal sanity, reduce taxes (especially the ill-designed cap-and-trade system, scheduled to raise the gas tax by $0.63/gallon by 2021), and get government out of the way of free enterprise.
These modest goals make enemies out of hardline rhetoric — especially the secessionist tones that have cropped up amid the grievances being aired this month at various county meetings across the state.
How Did Things Get So Bad?
California has always been a land of contradictions (where else could the seeds be sown for both the Free Speech Movement and Reagan Revolution?). Until recently, however, it has been held together by an optimism and dynamism that gave rise to booming industries in aerospace, entertainment, and hi-tech, while simultaneously preserving and reshaping the state’s abundant natural resources. Now, there is a veritable caravan of middle-class Californians leaving for Texas, Arizona, and Nevada. Even solid-blue counties like Santa Cruz and Sonoma are warming up to the notion of regional control.
If you’re wondering what went so wrong that Californians are leaving the state in droves, @StevenGreenhut of the R Street Institute has the answer: the political monoculture in Sacramento has been busy planning its own (rather uninspired) version of utopia. When they are not crafting single-payer health care plans in flagrant violation of California’s balanced-budget amendment, they are stoking delusions about high-speed trains-to-nowhere, and raising public pension payments from a shrinking pool of private sector wealth.
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And the middle-class aren’t the only ones leaving the state. Governor Brown expressed worries this week that further tax hikes might actually reduce revenues because of the on-going exodus of millionaires and billionaires who provide the bulk of state’s revenues. This has left California with virtually no money for basic infrastructure or social services. It’s gotten so bad that we’re now number one in percentage of the population below the poverty line (adjusted for cost of living). So much for left-wing dreams of a progressive utopia.
The New California idea is being developed as a true exercise in self-governance. The grievances beined accompanies a “declaration of separation,” delineating the incremental plan for getting the ball rolling on a constitutional exit strategy. But regardless of whether New California actually becomes a new state or not, the bottom-up approach — giving county representatives and thus average citizens a greater say in their government — could become the default strategy for reclaiming the republican system of government the Founders crafted.
Following the initial announcements about the proposed new state, Reed was quoted by CBS saying “We have to demonstrate that we can govern ourselves before we are allowed to govern.” This will require serious compromises on the part of the core county leaders, who will need to appeal to all of their constituents — yes, even the “godless communists” (to quote an unauthorized Twitter account associated with the brand).
In other words, if it is to be successful, New California will have to be a movement of “We the People.” That means a purple state, representing all Californians.
Read the transcript of Tom’s previous interview with producer Charlie Deist here.