Nearly 30 years ago, yours truly wrote a series of articles about dramatic changes in California’s economics, demographics, culture and politics that were creating a “New California.”
The series, later published as a book, portrayed California as 14 distinct regions – some, such as Los Angeles, just one county and others as many as 12 rural counties.
Much of what the series saw as beginning to happen has since become reality, particularly the state’s incredible evolution into an infinitely diverse society and its equally startling economic shift from manufacturing and agriculture to technology and services.
Then, as now, an unanswered question was whether state and local governments could adjust to the powerful changes that were creating immense political fault lines, or were destined to become sclerotic and irrelevant.
Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper is the latest Californian to pose the question and suggest an answer – breaking up California into six new states that would be more reflective of its regional differences and conflicts.
He’s filed a ballot measure to that effect, and while its chances of qualifying for the ballot and being passed are scant, it does provide an opportunity to revisit the state’s internal discord.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office seized the opportunity it offered, producing a 16-page analysis of the Draper measure that demonstrates just how deep those cultural, sociological, ideological and economic fault lines are.
The treatise lays out economic and other differences among the proposed states, which would vary in population from 11.6 million in West California (Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties) and 10.8 million in South California (San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties) to under a million in Jefferson (the 14 northernmost counties).
Silicon Valley would be the wealthiest state, in terms of per capita personal income, and Central California (San Joaquin Valley and adjacent mountains) the poorest, with less than half of Silicon Valley residents’ income.
The analysis doesn’t go into politics, but it’s evident that two of the states would probably be red, two would be blue and the final two could swing either way. Thus, Republican presidential candidates would see a net gain in electoral votes.
The report does hint at potential sources of political friction, most notably pointing out that the relatively poor, rural states would have most of the water.
It’s not going to happen, of course – if for no other reason than other states wouldn’t stomach California’s having 12 U.S. senators, thus dooming any plan in Congress.
But the proposal, and the LAO analysis, once again remind us that California’s cultural and economic diversity makes it very difficult to effectively govern the state without some residents feeling alienated and even victimized.