Breaking up the Golden State: An Idea as Old as California

Two interesting articles came across my desk the other day regarding the movement to split California into six states. The first was a piece by KPCC radio that takes a look at previous efforts to carve up California. The second was written by Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton titled “Six-state proposal should be taken seriously, but it’s just hard to.”

Since I was a history major in college (back in the day when you still could get a job with such a degree), I find it fascinating to learn about previous movements to split the state. According to the KPCC article, “there have been at least 220 efforts to hack California into smaller states, with at least five just since 2000.” The article, though, focuses on six of them, and includes maps to show what may have been.

The Pico Act of 1859 — back when California had 43 counties — almost became a reality. It would have split the state in two, along the boundaries of what is now San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties south to be called the Colorado Territory. The Governor signed the bill, 75 percent of the voters in Southern California supported it and then it went to Congress. Before our leaders in Washington, D.C. could vote, though, the Civil War broke out and the effort evaporated.

Many of us remember then-Assemblyman Stan Statham’s effort in 1992 to divide the state into three sections. The Assembly approved the concept but it died in the Senate. The year before, he had tried to split the state in two but realized he didn’t have the votes in the Assembly.

The desire for a State of Jefferson has been getting a lot of publicity lately, but the concept isn’t new. In fact, it has been around for nearly 75 years. The idea was picking up momentum in 1941. A newspaper contest (complete with a $2 cash award for the winning entry) resulted in the name of “Jefferson,” Yreka was named the temporary state capital and a Del Norte County judge was elected governor.  But once again, war broke out and attention was quickly focused elsewhere.

The desire for secession has been evident to northbound travelers over the years. My son attends Southern Oregon University; every time we make the drive, we see that barn standing along I-5 in Siskiyou County that proudly declares the State of Jefferson.

And so while our friends to the north are pushing for their own state, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper is shooting for a six pack. Under his proposal, we would have states called Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California.

Columnist Skelton, who calls the concept a “nutty notion,” wrote about it because 1.3 million Californians have signed petitions to place it on the 2016 state ballot. In his column, he touches on just some of the potential headaches, such as water rights issues and the fiscal inequities between the six new states — let alone what it would do to the political composition of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

While many political pundits predict that both measures are doomed for failure, they are intriguing and entertaining concepts that will be in the news for some time to come. One question is: which state would earn the honors of assuming the moniker “The Golden State?” My bet is Draper’s home state – Silicon Valley – which coincidentally would automatically become the richest state in the nation.

By the way, I am writing this piece from San Diego County, which someday may be the capital of South California.

 

About: David Liebler:
David Liebler is the Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at dliebler.at.counties.org.

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