The call to split up California isn't new. There have been some 200 serious attempts to break apart the massive state. Discontentment in southern California in 1850 gave way to a call to separate from territory to the north. The early 1980s saw a push to cut the state evenly in half. In 1993, Shasta County Assembly Member Stan Statham made a pitch to break the state into three.
Gail Fiorini-Jenner, a Siskiyou County high school teacher and writer who is married to a cattle rancher, has coauthored two books about the State of Jefferson, the subject of a secession movement dating back to 1850. The would-be state encompasses northernmost California counties and southernmost Oregon counties, and the push to break away hit a fever pitch in 1941 when secessionists blocked traffic in Yreka with calls to secede. The onset of World War II put it to rest, according to Fiorini-Jenner, and while new efforts have resurfaced since, she doesn't believe the rest of California would ever agree to let go of such a resource-rich area. That hasn't deterred people from posting road signs welcoming motorists to Jefferson, or establishing Jefferson Public Radio. And, like the Central Valley farmers, the sentiment that would-be Jefferson residents are unlike other Californians still prevails.
"We just see ourselves as being different," Fiorini-Jenner says.
Frank Gruber, a Santa Monica attorney who sits on the board of the California Studies Association, has written on and presented his idea of splitting California into four states. "I don't have any illusions that it might actually happen," Gruber laughs.
His four-state solution would consist of a 15-county coastal state spanning Mendocino to Ventura counties; a 35-county inland state spanning from the northern state border to Kern County; a seven-county Southern California state, and the freestanding State of L.A. "On the national level, California is an anemic giant," Gruber told the U.C. Berkeley Faculty Club during a talk on the subject. "Our two senators represent 37 million people — about the same number as the 44 senators of the 22 smallest states.
"What we need," Gruber told Berkeley faculty members, "is a no-fault, amicable divorce, because all Californians need state government that is closer to the people, and state government needs constituents who have more similar needs, who have a more common purpose."
Is it really crazy to say that California isn't really a state any more, or that most people who live here might actually be happier if they were governed by people who more directly shared their political views?
"I think the temptation to think this way is a result of all the social sorting that's going on," Cain noted. Liberals tend to want to live on the coast; conservatives flock to conservative areas.
Imagine, for example, a three-state solution. The northern counties could form their state of Jefferson, where pot would be legal and gun control would be limited. The coastal communities from, say, Sonoma down to Los Angeles would have a state with a rational tax policy, good public schools, healthy social services, same-sex marriage, and liberal social policies. The Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and San Diego could have their GOP heaven of low taxes and limited services — until they saw what it was doing to their lives.
"The danger, of course, is that you'd be creating a Mississippi in the Central Valley," Cain said.
In addition, Leno added, "There would be a huge influx of people who desperately need services who would leave the valley and head for the coast."
On the other hand, each of the states would have a healthy economic base (agriculture in the valley, information technology on the coast, and pot in the north). Each would be larger than many current U.S. states.
At the very least, it's worth talking about.