Time to Carve Up California?

FEB. 21, 2012


This issue of Splitting California into two or more states has come into the greater public eye once again. This matter is dredged up every few years by a different group of Californians who are not happy with current arrangements. A recent proponent was  Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone.

However often the issue of splitting the state has been brought up, the actual splitting has never occurred. This leaves the question for many of us: How does a state get split? The further question that needs to be asked and answered is: What needs to occur in order to actually cause a State to split?

The process of splitting a state is codified in Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

The state splitting process generally begins when a state’s legislature first votes to split the state. Once the measure passes both chambers of that state, it is submitted to Congress. Once there, the matter is discussed. If both chambers of Congress vote to pass it, the state can then be split.

There seem to be two options on how a state can split. In the first instance, the state decides how it’s going to be split before sending the proposal to Congress.

In the other instance, the state does not decide how to split itself before the bill is sent to Congress. Congress generally establishes a partition committee once the bill to split a state has been affirmed by Congress.

Partition committees are quite important to the splitting process. When a vote to split a state occurs, there are many details that must be worked out. These details include what resources are to be partitioned to which new state, how any existing state debt will be distributed between the two new states and how the state Constitution will be addressed or changed by the new states. A key component of a partition committee can include how to draw the lines and how many new states may be created. So, proponents may be a bit ahead of themselves by drawing such maps.

What If Congress Chooses Not to Act? 

What happens if the state itself votes to split, but Congress either fails to take the matter up, or chooses not to? That was the case in 1864, when Californians passed a ballot initiative to split California and the Legislature voted and passed it as well. Unfortunately, Congress chose not to discuss it and the matter was left undecided. This poses a problem, but needs to be examined.

If an existing state is too small to divide and yet tries to split, it would be argued that Congress has a material interest in acting as a check to stop the process. If, for instance, Vermont tried to split itself into two or more parts, many would see that the resulting new states would be too small in both size and population and should not have the benefit of another U.S. House member, much less two more U.S. Senators.

However, considering the sheer size of California and its population, not to mention the size of our economy, some have suggested that California is a de facto country of its own. One would think that any attempt for California to split into two or more states would not run into the same problem.

In my opinion, Congress should vote to support California splitting. If Congress lets the issue die, as it did in the 1864, then we have a real dilemma.

California could have other options if Congress chooses not to act. Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees:

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government….”

If Congress chooses not to pass such a split of California, that provision could be invoked in the the federal courts if manageable standards could be advanced. (I believe they could be.) Though it is not clear if such a process would be successful, it could help to build the political pressure needed to force a split.

The only other remedy to split a state is would be a direct appeal by California to the other states to call a Constitutional Convention, following Article V of the Constitution. The Convention would change the process of splitting a state. This would a very long and difficult procedure.

History of State Splitting in America 

The very first state to split was New Jersey. For a brief time there was a West and East Jersey. This happened in 1676, but the experiment was short lived and the two parts were reunited in 1702 as modern day New Jersey. At that time, New Jersey was still a colony and it is not clear what caused the splitting or reunification to occur.

The next split to take place was Vermont. It was formed from the Northeast corner of New York state, in an area for which there were land claims by New York, New Hampshire and even Massachusetts. In 1777, the locals living in the area of this cross-claimed land themselves took title (it seems unilaterally) and formed “The Republic of New Connecticut,” declaring it an Independent country. Six months later, at a constitutional convention, 72 delegates adopted the name of Vermont.

In 1791, Vermont became the 14th state. It was Vermont’s circumstances that led to the creation of Article IV Section 3 at the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia by the Founding Fathers. They realized that there may be a need for states to split or even be able to combine two or more states into one. This is what led to the constitutional codification.

Maine became the first post-colonial state to split. It was a territory that the French and English fought many wars over until it was finally claimed by Massachusetts in the mid-18th Century. Maine is not physically attached to Massachusetts and was called “an exurb.” Until Maine was formed as its own state, representatives were sent to the Massachusetts statehouse to represent the citizens in the Maine territory.

In 1807,  disputes over land grants in Maine led to a vote in the Massachusetts Assembly to split the state. That vote failed.

However, the first step to actually split did occur. There is one key reason why. Massachusetts was well represented in the lower chamber of its legislature in those days. In fact, there was about one representative for about every “150 ratable polls” (one representative for every 150 white men over age 21) in its lower chamber, far more than any other state at the time or even now. In 1812, there were representatives in the Massachusetts lower chamber. It is likely the high level of representation led to the state considering the split, even though the split was voted down.

During the War of 1812, the British captured and took control of Maine, but then it was released back to Massachusetts after the war. So, for a time, representatives were no longer sent to the Massachusetts legislature. Massachusetts finally voted to allow Maine to become a State in 1820 as part of the Missouri compromise to keep the balance of slave states and free states.

Virginia is the greatest splitter of all. It began as one of the first and oldest colonies and then grew to the point in which encompassed the area of West Virginia and Kentucky. It was these latter areas that separated from Virginia to form their own states that we recognize today.

Kentucky split from Virginia and became the 15th State in November of 1861 as part of the secession movement. Kentucky citizens formed a convention and voted to secede from Virginia. Kentucky does not appear to have invoked Article IV, Section 3 in its formation. It seems that this was done summarily after Virginia seceded from the Union.

West Virginia followed a similar pattern to Kentucky. Since Virginia became a Confederate state, the people residing in the northwestern portion of Virginia formed a convention and voted to break off from the greater state, like Kentucky not asking Virginia’s consent to split. West Virgnia simply applied to the U.S. Congress to become a state. The application was granted.

It appears that Maine is the only state to have split under Article IV Section 3.

How Could California Split? 

There are many people who are not satisfied with the California’s current boundaries and others who believe that splitting the state would solve many internal problems. This is particularly true of people who feel they have no access to the Legislature or are simply being controlled by factions of the state who do not share their interests.

However, with the number of attempts that have been made, it is clear that a good deal more political will needs to be developed to advance a breakup.

The key question: What would need to happen in order to push a successful split forward? The answer lies with an issue more obscure than the intricacies of state splitting itself. The main problem is there needs to be an increase in the number of representatives in the California Legislature because the will of the people is not being expressed by this small Legislature.

Currently, California has 80 Assembly members and 40 Senators representing 28 million people.

In 1862, those same 80 Assembly members and 40 Senators represented just more than 400,000 people statewide. That is, each Assembly member in 1862 represented 5,000 people; and each state senator, 10,000.

James Madison noted in the Federalist Papers that each representative in a state legislature should represent about 3,000 people. He got that idea by looking to democracies throughout history that had successful representative government. So originally, California was not far from Madison’s ideal.

Representation in California has degraded to the extent that now each Assembly member has close to 500,000 constituents and each state senator has close to 1 million. It is almost impossible for the average person to ever even meet their representative, much less feel that their concerns are heard, understood and acted upon. The more people represented by each legislator, the more power and less accountability each has. This alone is a powerful incentive to maintain the current system. It also serves to defeat all attempts to split California.

If California ever increases the number of state representatives enough to correct the people’s incredibly poor access, the Legislature would likely take splitting the state. However, until then, we are simply left to drawing maps.

Michael Warnken is president of Project Commonwealth, at Projectcommonwealth.com.


Write a comment
  1. queeg
    queeg 21 February, 2012, 10:58

    Village joisters trot out this pap. California is the new Hawaii….ten dollar hr. Workers opening doors, shucking potatoes and waiting tables for the properous from other states!

    Reply this comment
  2. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 21 February, 2012, 12:16

    Geologic forces would connect the Americas with the Euro-African continent via continental drift before California is divided up into 3 separate states. 🙂

    You can’t even get a part-time legislature in Cali. How the hell are you going to split it into thirds? 🙂

    Nothing short of a full-on revolution would achieve what this article suggests.

    Once the concentration of wealth and power falls into the hands of the few it is practically impossible to strip it from their grasp. 10% own 90% of the wealth today in America. They are the oligarchs.

    The Occupy movement tried to stop it and got sprayed in the face with mace and taken to jail in cattle cars.

    Reply this comment
  3. Eric in SR
    Eric in SR 21 February, 2012, 12:28

    Agree that the actual chances of dividing California up are extremely slim. I’m against a north-south division (what’s the point? Blue coastal counties, red inland counties for the most part), but would welcome an east-west division with Interstate 5, or something close to it, as the dividing line.

    Reply this comment
  4. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 21 February, 2012, 16:03

    Mr. B wrote: “Geologic forces would connect the Americas with the Euro-African continent via continental drift before California is divided up into 3 separate states.”

    Funniest comment I’ve seen in a while.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  5. Barb
    Barb 21 February, 2012, 17:20

    Great read and great facts to explain the process. I believe efforts will be attempted and as much as some might suggest that it will never happen unless the earth experiences a reversal of pangaea, it will be an effort worthy nonetheless!

    Reply this comment
  6. JoeS
    JoeS 21 February, 2012, 17:46

    The normal people of the United States do not want to give the loonies of CA six Senate seats, if we split into three. Plus, it would give one state to SF, another state to LA. No thank you!

    The most logical would be to go North/South, take the coast from SF to LA and make it a liberal cesspool. The rest of the state would be a beautiful place to live and work. Normal people could go to the OC and SD beaches. Go up 395, around to fish for salmon on the North Coast.

    We have friends in Washington state who say the same thing about making Seattle a state and leaving the rest of the state for normal people.

    Reply this comment
  7. Don C
    Don C 21 February, 2012, 19:49

    Congratulations JoeS; you’ve come as close to the concept of Downsize California’s founders as anyone who has written recently. “Liberal Cesspool” describes well the coastal area that controls the legislature and is polluting the state. Before thinking of the rest of the state as rural remember that the Downsize concept includes San Diego, Orange County and Sacramento, as well as Fresno and Bakersfield. Go Downsize.

    Reply this comment
  8. LW
    LW 21 February, 2012, 20:30

    Your historical account has one major error — Kentucky was admitted as the 15th State in 1792, not 1861, and certainly not in response to Virginia’s secession from the Union. Like Maine, it was admitted in accord with Article IV, with its parent State’s consent.

    Reply this comment
  9. Bob Smith
    Bob Smith 21 February, 2012, 21:06

    The problem here is that any split would occur according to the priorities of the CA legislature and Congress, not the people of California. I would argue that their priorities would be to deliver a permanent Democrat majority to the US Senate. Given the political and numeric dominance of the coasts, a three-way split as above would be most effective in delivering an additional 4 Democrat Senators to Congress. That would almost certainly give a near unassailable Democrat majority in the Senate, and in many years would give the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority.

    Reply this comment
  10. JKEYES
    JKEYES 22 February, 2012, 08:06

    The only true map is on http://WWW.DownsizeCa.org. Call and ask questions.

    Reply this comment
  11. Barb
    Barb 22 February, 2012, 10:43

    Amen to JKEYES! DownsizeCa.org a good place to start!

    Reply this comment
  12. Bob
    Bob 22 February, 2012, 14:11

    Yes, time to carve up Colliefornia (as Ahnode sez).

    Thanks for the article. I’ve been advocated splitting the state up for years but people either think the idea is crazy or are apethetic. Even the Republicans I have spoken are apethetic even as they become more irrelevant with each passing election.

    Reply this comment
  13. queeg
    queeg 22 February, 2012, 21:41

    Wake up….fantasies are laughable…..your doomed to lower middle class, fast food, CVS wine specials and huge personal debt….

    Reply this comment
  14. jason
    jason 24 February, 2012, 09:01

    With the currant management of the government in california and the budget problems + wide spread corruption. I think it is possible to break up Cali! After the fast approaching apocalypse wipes out 70-80% of the population.

    Reply this comment
  15. SoCal Gal
    SoCal Gal 25 February, 2012, 07:06

    Love this idea! Imagine a CEQA that worked! A regulatory and taxing system that rewarded growth and innovation, where everyone had skin in the game and wanted to succeed!

    Reply this comment
  16. Rich Giddens
    Rich Giddens 26 February, 2012, 20:20

    Yes, dividing California would be a great solution since it’s now the universal perception that California is unlivable and ungovernable (see the latest Public Policy Poll PPP.org poll on the least favorable State (California of course!). I know Michael Warnken and he’s a subject matter expert on all of this. He’s very influential and has changed my views on many different subjects. I’ve learned quite a bit from him. Please take note of the final part of his article—That we are not adequately represented because we have too few legislators–This as the executive branch grows beyond reason or the common good.

    You and I know the bitter truth—Reform is not possible in what is again, a non-livable and ungovernable State of One-Party Rule and too few Representatives.

    So the downward social, fiscal, economic, political and security spiral continues unabated and nothing can stem the tide. If you hate me for my comments, so be it. I can only report the facts, i.e., California is hated and despised by the rest of the nation; California is disloyal to the US Constitution by way of it’s recently passed laws like no E-Verify compliance and in-state tuition rates and subsidy of illegal aliens.

    California is an aging trophy wife. The ol’ hag is now bitter that taxpayer husband has run off with another girl (Texas or South Carolina) and she intends to steal as much of the contents of the husband taxpayer’s money as possible. She wants to wreck taxpayer husband’s car and open the doors to the home at night to thieves, murderers and rapists while he’s asleep. She won’t work, and now openly calls herself the “Government-Parasite Complex”.

    Assemblywoman Shannon Grove said it best: “The California legislature is entirely beholden to 3 different groups—the public employee unions, the extreme environmentalists and the gay rights agenda”.

    Reply this comment
  17. Nick N
    Nick N 11 March, 2012, 18:18

    I am against splitting the state. Same old problem that the urban areas would control the rural areas. This could be solved by electing a state senator from each county. This would give the balance in the state legislator and would not require the federal government approval.

    Reply this comment
  18. Nick N
    Nick N 11 March, 2012, 18:20

    Could not get on Projectcommonwealth.com

    Reply this comment
  19. Claudia
    Claudia 16 October, 2015, 11:59

    You don’t say anything about the State of Jefferson movement to split California in the 1940’s and even currently. The movement is 25 months old currently and has reached the point of legal standing to move forward with the legislature for redress of grievance re lack of representation. Go to Soj51.net.

    Reply this comment
  20. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 16 October, 2015, 15:03

    We here in the North Region like to cal our section the State of Jefferson the southern region can be returned to mexico and Sacramento can fall into a giant sink hole and take moonbeam and his band of thieves with it

    Reply this comment
  21. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 16 October, 2015, 17:19

    I’ve never heard of the “State Of Jefferson”? Lol…What a joke. Do they still dress up in white sheets and burn crosses in this region? Do their tax dollars go to Jefferson or California? Oh now i have heard of these crazy jefferson wannbes. They are call sovereign citizens!!!

    Reply this comment
  22. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 17 October, 2015, 08:42

    NTHEOC Still insist on being a total idiot living in your freaky Back to Nature Community and being a total blockhead

    Reply this comment
  23. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 17 October, 2015, 13:52

    Plover, I obviously have hit a nerve with you, lol. You are an angry DOOMER aren’t you. The State of California is the envy of the Nation and recent reports have shown California to have a robust Economy that is out the entire Nation! Don’t worry Plover, you aren’t the first DOOMER I have smacked in place on this site. Hey plover, If you don’t like it here in California then leave. In fact, you would be much happier Living in Montana, joining a militia group and live happily ever after??.

    Reply this comment
  24. Boz
    Boz 15 November, 2015, 15:48

    this can’t go on like it is. At some point, a new state has to be formed. We’re dealing with taxation, and legislation without representation! Thats unConstitutional

    Reply this comment
  25. Bill - San Jose
    Bill - San Jose 16 November, 2015, 01:19

    Triple the senators for 40 million people makes sense.

    The two current senators equals no representation

    Reply this comment

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