Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper has spent the last six years promoting his radical plan to cut California into pieces, but for a long time no one took him seriously.
In 2014, amid his attempt to divvy up the state into what vaguely resembled a six-piece jigsaw puzzle, Stephen Colbert invited him on the show to discuss what Colbert called a “rock solid plan that needs no further explanation” and “a great new plan to make California whole again by breaking it apart.”
“Yes, it’s an opportunity to reboot,” Colbert said, echoing Draper’s own words. “But just like restarting Windows, it might take a few years.”
A good-humored Draper rolled with the punches as Colbert ripped the new states of “Silicon Valley, the richest state per capita,” and “Jefferson, famous for producing 60 percent of the country’s marijuana.” But after the “Six Californias” plan failed to make it onto the ballot for the second time that year since 2012, Draper redrew the state lines. He emerged last September with a more modest idea: Cal-3, the plan to slice California in thirds, rather than sixths.
Now, the state — and, possibly, the rest of the country — is going to have to take him slightly more seriously.
On Tuesday, the California secretary of state confirmed in a memo that Draper’s Cal-3 campaign attained enough valid signatures to earn a spot on the ballot Nov. 6. After more than 150 years of failed partition proposals, California voters will finally go to the polls to decide whether they want to relinquish their monopoly of the Pacific coast and become three new states.
The initiative proposes dividing the state into Southern California, from San Diego to Fresno; Northern California, from Oregon to Santa Cruz County; and California, which would consist of the six counties between Los Angeles and Monterey along the coastline.
But approval by voters, should that happen, is just one of many obstacles to the plan, thanks to Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which says:
New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new state 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, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned, as well as of the Congress.
Still, the Cal-3 campaign said the ballot initiative will at the very least give voters an opportunity to express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“We are not a one-size-fits-all state,” Cal-3 spokeswoman Peggy Grande told The Washington Post. “The needs of Silicon Valley are very different from the needs of the Imperial Valley, and so this is a great opportunity for the people of this state to really take that power and the future back into their own hands. There’s not a plan being dictated for the future, but this is obviously a very important first step.”
Californians have talked about breaking up with themselves ever since California became a state in 1850.
State lawmakers, individual counties and imaginative wealthy people such as Draper have tried more than 200 times to hatch plans to either slice the state into pieces or secede from the union entirely, according to the Los Angeles Times. The last time any American state succeeded at such a plan was in 1863, when West Virginia, which did not want to be part of the Confederacy, split from Virginia, which did.
In California, the reasons for such an ongoing inner conflict stem most obviously from the state’s geographic and demographic diversity and the unique identities of different regions.
The state got closest to dividing itself in 1859, when the state legislature and voters overwhelmingly approved a new “Territory of Colorado” to split southern California from the north.
The stated reasons for the split echo the same proposed by Draper: California, lawmakers wrote in 1859, encloses an area “so diversified in physical and other features as to preclude, to an unwholesome degree, the possibility of uniform legislation, and render cumbersome and expensive the operation of government.”
The proposal for the new state headed off to Washington — but Congress never put it to a vote because it got too busy with the Civil War.
In northernmost parts of California, rebellious souls have been flirting since 1941 with the idea of their own state called “Jefferson,” which would mesh with the southern counties of Oregon. For several weeks that year in the town of Yreka, people armed themselves with hunting rifles, created roadblocks on U.S. Highway 99 marking their hypothetical new borders and handed out their “State of Jefferson Proclamation of Independence” to passing motorists. They were angry because they felt that state government was neglecting infrastructure needs in their rural parts of the state.
Their movement died, though, after Pearl Harbor.
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, lawmakers put forth various proposals to split California in half or in thirds but none ever quite gained enough momentum.
Then came Draper.
Draper carved out a space for himself in the Silicon Valley after investing in companies such as Skype, Hotmail and Tesla and investing heavily in bitcoin. But in 2012, he turned his attention to reinventing California.
He has described California as a state with crumbling bridges and roads, a struggling, underfunded education system and oppressively high taxes.
The only solution, he maintains, is smaller governments better equipped to respond to residents’ specific needs depending on the region of California where they live. The state government, he has said, is “rotting.”
“Three states will get us better infrastructure, better education and lower taxes,” he told the Los Angeles Times last year. “States will be more accountable to us and can cooperate and compete for citizens.”
On Tuesday night, Grande, the campaign spokeswoman, pointed to recent rankings from U.S. News and World report showing California ranked 50th for quality of life, 43rd for fiscal stability, 26th for education overall and, specifically 44th in Pre-K-12 education.
But, as Stephen Colbert asked Draper in 2014, “Do all these problems go away when they’re divvied up among” separate states?
Grande said the point is that it will be easier for lawmakers to tackle problems when the solutions are tailor-made for their constituents in the smaller states.
“None of those problems disappear,” she said, “but what does happen is the solutions become more representative of the people they affect.”
If the proposal ever makes it to Capitol Hill, one hurdle in a Republican-controlled Congress would be the idea of awarding the deep blue state four more senators, likely Democratic senators.
But it probably won’t come to that. According to the Mercury News, an April poll found that just 17 percent of California voters supported the proposal.