The latest in a long string of attempts to carve up California has actually qualified for the ballot, but it stands little chance of passing, and even if it did, it would probably not win the required congressional approval, let alone a green light from the state legislature. Nor is it likely to generate much support from longtime backers of a “State of Jefferson.”
As written, the ballot initiative would create three new states out of what is now one. “Northern California” would stretch from just north of Monterey to the Oregon border and east to the Nevada line. “California” would include the coastal counties from Monterey south to Los Angeles. “Southern California” would take in San Diego and 11 other counties, from Fresno, Madera and Mono counties south to the Mexico border.
The primary backer, billionaire and venture capitalist Tim Draper, argues the existing state of California is “ungovernable” because of its size and regional economies. While there is some truth to that view, it’s hard to see how creating two new state government bureaucracies would be an improvement.
Contrary to some claims circulating on social media, the three-Californias plan would not create two new Republican-majority states. According to an analysis by the newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Northern California and California would be solidly Democratic, while Southern California could be a swing state, based on how the various collections of counties voted in the last two presidential elections.
The addition of four new Senate seats would likely benefit Democrats, but if the Republicans managed to win both of the seats in Southern California, that would leave the Democrats with four seats to the GOP’s two, rather than the current two to zero. The Crystal Ball says the addition of a swing state also could benefit the GOP in the Electoral College, which would increase from 538 electoral votes to 542 with the addition of four Senate seats. Republicans might have a chance to compete for a third of California’s electoral votes, something they have no chance of doing under the present system.
All of that presumes that Congress would approve and the president would sign a bill adding two states to the union. The Constitution provides that creating any additional states requires the approval of the affected state legislature and the Congress. It’s not clear whether a statewide initiative would take the place of legislative approval.
As for California voters, a poll in April showed the proposal failing 72 percent to 13 percent. Some residents of the northern California counties just across the border from us still support the concept of the state of Jefferson — but they are largely conservative, and no fans of the San Francisco Bay Area, which would continue to dominate them politically under the three-state scenario.
Congress is hardly likely to agree to such a sweeping change, even if it were to pass at the state level. Both of the two major political parties have said they will oppose the measure, as have former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
It’s safe to say three Californias is not an idea whose time has come.