It was only a matter of time, perhaps, until the 50 states became not the 50 states. Years ago, there had to be people who thought, “50 is a stupid number. America should stay 48 states.” But progress is sometimes the accumulation of numbers and California seems set to deliberate on whether America will remain at 50. A campaign to split the third largest state in the country into six smaller states has apparently achieved enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot for 2016. That means that in two years, the iconic number of 50 states could not exist anymore and the world would have to contend with six different versions of California.
Venture capitalist Tim Draper is the man behind the curtain, putting $4.6 million of his own money into the campaign. The Six Californias campaign is trying to sell the idea to residents that the state is broken enough to warrant dissolution and recreation. The website for the campaign touts smaller government that is more responsive to the people as a key reason for the change. It even has a sign-up where interested people can help “create your state” when the time comes. With a seemingly clever plan and a small government pitch at an already disgruntled population, the campaign offers its own solution and is taking steps to bring it to fruition.
Splitting California into pieces is not exactly a new idea. California residents have most likely heard that there is more than one kind of California, usually split along North and South lines. Making the long drive from Southern California to Northern California is a lesson in the diversity the state offers, not just in landscape, but in attitudes and viewpoints. While the Golden State has a reputation for being quite left on the political spectrum, many of its counties vote conservatively. For instance, in the 2012 presidential election, Republican candidate Romney carried more than four million individual votes from California, but the electoral votes from the state went to Obama who won more than six million votes to beat his opponent. The results map of California counties shows a healthy dose of both red and blue, contrary to the notion that the entire state is liberal. With this political split in mind, there does seem to be more than just one California.
But is that enough to warrant splitting the state into six smaller states? It has more to it than just the difference between mountains and desert or Republicans and Democrats that has some people wondering. The state is well-known for its fiscal crises. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former “Governator,” was elected to help change that fact. The new governor, Jerry Brown, has also been given that mission. Recently, the California legislature passed a budget for the upcoming year, squeaking past the finish line just ahead of the looming deadline. California budgets are notorious for being late, but this one survived apparently with a little help from the “no budget, no pay” rule. It includes a plan to help pay down the state’s debt, but no one seems completely satisfied with the result.
This lingering dissatisfaction may just be the result of partisan haggling, which tends to leave both sides with more compromises than they would prefer, but the Six Californias campaign has a different theory. In the video on the campaigns homepage, it seeks to lay blame on the governor. In an enjoyable, white-board marker drawing act, the video indicates that the problem is not just the budget, or the governor himself, who it graciously and sympathetically notes is “trying” to do the best job he can. Instead, the problem is the fact that there is only one of him. There should be more governors. In fact, there should be six.
Californians, who for the meantime are still citizens of only one state, may have the chance to vote on that idea in 2016 if the more than 800,000 signatures are accepted by the California secretary of state. Then perhaps the Mad Men evoking Tim Draper can start the really big job of a campaign to get out the vote and get it on his side of the issue. Is the venture capitalist’s idea as mad as the television show’s name? Or does he have a solid point? More importantly for the nation’s magic number, is it a good idea to make the country the 55 States of America?
California seems to be evoking a kind of Wizard of Oz moment where people can dazedly say, “Toto, we’re not in the 50 states anymore.” Some will say that much like that beloved work of fiction, the Six Californias campaign is a fantasy. Critics have been less dreamy in their condemnation of the plan. Democratic strategist Steven Maviglio took to Twitter to register his disgust with the plan. He called it a “colossal waste of time, energy, and money that will hurt the CA brand.” He has a point about the branding issue, but it is not exactly limited to just the state’s brand. The 50 States of America is a brand in itself and Californians will have to acknowledge the nationwide consequence of their decision. Maybe California does need a shakeup, but does it need to shake up the country as well?
Californians like to think of themselves as trendsetters. From technologies like Apple to cutting edge cinema from Hollywood, the Golden State likes to keep its image in tact. That means that everything that touches California soil, wet or dry, must be its own modern gold rush. Perhaps that is why the Oscars are gold or why Apple felt compelled to release a gold iPhone. Billion dollar industries like those in Silicon Valley and Hollywood have created more profit based almost solely on ideas than any other place in the world. Or so Californians would like everyone to think. The Six Californias campaign will have to prove that it too is a golden idea if it wants to capture the imagination of the citizens. What is at stake is not just one state. The fact is that America would not be just 50 states anymore if California goes through with this and anyone messing with that golden number needs to be very sure they are doing the right thing.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury