Secession plan not as funny as it seems

JULY 21, 2011


Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone’s proposal to create a new state of South California from 13 mostly conservative southern California counties hasn’t been taken too seriously by the media and fellow politicians. His fellow county supervisors refused to go along with a convention to discuss the secession idea but, according to LA Now, they “voted to host a statewide summit to allow city and county officials from across the state to discuss state budget issues and Sacramento policies that hurt local government services and job creation, and also discuss turning the Legislature into a part-time body.”

This toned-down summit won’t use government funds, which is wise, even if it is the first time in a while that county supervisors insisted that something be done with public funds. But while the new confab will be a far cry from a call to arms to secede from the tyrannical central state, Stone’s idea is well worth discussing. Indeed, the idea of breaking California down into multiple new states has long been discussed for various political and cultural reasons, even though such an idea is more of a thought experiment than serious policy. Any new state must be approved by the current Legislature and by the federal government, so good luck with that. But we’ll see more out-of-the-box idea as California wrestles with seemingly intractable problems.

Attempts to create new political entities out of old ones tend to draw intense backlash from the political establishment, as we saw when the San Fernando Valley tried to secede from Los Angeles in 2001. It had good reason to do so given the neglect from downtown officials, but it lost 2-1 citywide and he idea barely passed even in the Valley. Likewise, I don’t expect Californians to support a South California. I would be loath to support the idea also, mainly because I live up north and would be stuck behind enemy lines.

But anyone who argues that secession is crazy obviously hasn’t paid much attention to Sacramento politics or to the state’s declining economy, massive and unresponsive government and eroding freedoms. California is an advanced socialist society where the dominant party believes in nothing other than expanding the government, punishing the private sector and raising taxes. Businesses and productive citizens are fleeing this most bountiful and beautiful land for wretched outposts in the desert and the prairie. What does that tell you? The real craziness is the idea that our state is being ruined by lunatics.

Despite the budget mess, the state’s politicians are spending their time figuring out ways to further regulate businesses and expand pensions and union power and mandate gay curricula in the schools. Anyone who watches this would be hard-pressed to view secession as nuts.

Here’s my Orange County Register column from last year looking at secession ideas. As a California geography buff, I am a bit torn by the idea of breaking up our beloved state and especially by doing so in a way that is driven by politics rather than by natural geographic and cultural features. But, in reality, politics follows culture and geography to a large degree. Newcomers to Californians often fail to recognize that the most significant differences here are from East to West rather than North to South.

We see that in the new redistricting proposal as communities in the coastal ranges argue about whether to associate themselves with the liberal coast or the conservative Central Valley. The main exceptions are in Orange and San Diego counties, which remain fairly conservative. Northern and Southern California are dramatically different places, and the differences between the trendy, fair-weather coastlands and the rural, blazingly hot inland deserts and valleys is stark. Stone’s plan includes the following counties: Orange, San Diego, Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino and Tulare. This 13-million-population area would work as a state culturally and geographically even though it encompasses wealthy coastal areas, the low and high deserts and lower portions of the agricultural Central Valley.

This would be a conservative area, but not uniformly so. It would be diverse in every way. But ultimately it would function more like an inter-mountain Western state and save so many people the trouble of relocating to other places. Californians’ Democratic legislators are so left wing in their politics, and this contrasts greatly with the desires of the geographic bulk of the state. If you look at those blue and red maps following elections, you’ll see how Republican so many of the state’s counties remain. But those voters are swamped by the massive turnouts in overwhelmingly Democratic Los Angeles County, with its 10 million residents and the reliably liberal Bay Area. Stone wisely leaves the bastion of Southern California culture, LA, out of the new South California.

We get a sign of the kind of kickback South Californians will have to face. An article in the liberal Huffington Post quoted experts who warned that South Californians would face higher tuition at the prestigious universities, would have to pay tolls as they headed to California’s urban job centers and would have to pay for their own water and other infrastructure. This is a streatch. The current California squanders its resources and is so dominated by environmental interests that it resists infrastructure growth. A new South California less dominated by environmentalists, unions and other left-wing interest groups would probably be quite successful at doing what people in this country have always done — building the infrastructure needed to serve its growing population. The main loss would be to California, whose beleaguered residents would no doubt move in droves to burgeoning job centers in South California.

This could be a nice divorce, actually. Increasingly, the job centers are moving inland and I’m sure the business friendly South California would not punish its desperate California workers with tolls at the border. South Californians would create the jobs and the energy and Californians would still allow them to visit San Francisco on the weekend or surf at Manhattan Beach. They would be desperate for the tourist dollars, which would come third (after federal handouts and marijuana cultivation) as the economic driver there.

This isn’t about to happen any time soon, but ideas such as this are worth discussing as the current California once again careens toward the cliff because of public policies advocated mostly along the heavily populated coastal regions of our lovely state. Something has to give at some point. The state’s liberal politicians aren’t going to change their ways no matter how dire the economy becomes, so it’s time for rational people to float alternatives.

I’d say the big issue for a new South California would be how to keep all the new California ex-pat job seekers from bringing their crazy political ideas with them.









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