Politics

California Flirts with Breakup

Post-election 'Calexit' and multi-state solutions gain new following, momentum

Following the surprise election of President-Elect Donald Trump, some Californians are thinking of asking their state to secede, according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

And these are “rational” people, she said.

“A state Senate district in California has more people than South Dakota.”

Lofgren made the remarks on Tuesday at a congressional forum in Washington, D.C. While Trump himself wasn’t named as the chief cause, the Electoral College was motivating people, said Lofgren. The college will soon elect Trump, not Hillary Clinton, because Trump won enough states.

In Zofgren’s California, a small but vocal movement is pushing “Calexit” on social media. California is the state that threw Clinton over the top — in the popular vote.

Some Californians think that means the time has come to admit the state is too unlike the rest of the nation. But California’s problems are deeper than politics and won’t be solved by such a reckless move.

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“Some [secessionists] think they’re serious but they’re not,” said John J. Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California. “They haven’t thought this through.”

For one, senior citizens in California could lose their Social Security checks if California secedes, Pitney says. Second, the federal government considers secession a stripping-away of U.S. citizenship, and it does not allow that — and has not since it first fought the South in 1861.

Let’s start with how this all happened. California is the second-largest state with the nation’s largest population — more people than Canada. That means its 40 state Senate districts have to divide up about 39 million people. So those state Senate districts are bigger than its U.S. congressional districts.

“A state Senate district in California has more people than South Dakota,” said Pitney.

The state has also struggled with high costs for public services, high taxes, water shortages, and illegal immigration. And monthly, California businesses pull up stakes and move to more business-friendly environments in low-tax states such as Arizona, Texas, Utah, and Tennessee.

Politically, the state’s residents appear to be happy with the governance of Jerry Brown, a liberal Democrat, elected in 2010 and 2014 despite national GOP waves those years. And they liked Clinton.

On Nov. 8, the Golden State gave Clinton a margin of 4.27 million alone. Clinton’s national margin was 2.68 million. Thus, take away California, and Trump would have won the popular vote — easily.

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Over the years, California has trended Democratic in presidential years. Once a GOP state, California last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1988, when it narrowly chose George H. W. Bush over Democrat Michael Dukakis.

Republican presidential candidates rarely bother to campaign there, except to raise money from the rich Republicans in Los Angeles, San Diego, the Bay Area, and the Inland area.

This time, Trump wisely stayed out of the Golden State, with its 11 very expensive TV markets.

Also hurting the Republicans even more is California’s odd primary system, and how it affected the open U.S. Senate race. Basically, the state has two general elections. Like Louisiana, statewide candidates run in a “jungle primary.” The top two vote-getters then run in the general election.

This time, both of the final candidates for the hottest race in the state were Democrats. This likely hurt GOP turnout.

Another problem is the lack of a strong Republican governor or state party. The California GOP has weakened since the second term of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Schwarzenegger, who has always desired to be popular, gave up on his GOP-leaning reforms after winning a special election in 2003. By his re-election in 2006, he was drifting toward the Democrats. He has since taken decidedly left-wing positions.

Today, Schwarzenegger makes documentaries on the environment, including one on adopting a vegan diet to help save the planet from global warming. Like his fellow Golden Staters, Schwarzenegger didn’t vote for Trump.

Ultimately, Trump is faulted for losing a large state that he didn’t contest. His loss there and in the popular vote nationwide are thus exaggerated.

But the solution to the Golden State’s numerous problems is not to secede.

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Another discussed possibility is to split the state into new states, as happened to Virginia and West Virginia. But while it might look like common sense to split the state into north and south, it’s not that easy.

“The big difference isn’t north and south,” said Pitney. “It’s coastal versus inland.”

Some reformers wanted to petition the voters to split the state into six parts, but the 2016 ballot question didn’t get enough signatures.

Pitney pours cold water on that too. The state’s infrastructure was designed for one state, especially the highway system. Splitting the state into parts could harm the management of that infrastructure, he said.

Ultimately, Pitney recommends at least doubling the number of state representatives, from 80 to 160; and the number of state senators, from 40 to 80. It would increase the number of politicians, yes, but it would also increase responsiveness to the state’s problems, Pitney said.

Ultimately, California’s problems seem too large, like the state itself, for radical or drastic changes.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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