Is it time to carve up California?



In Hawaii last week, the locals celebrated  – or maybe lamented … or, I suspect in most cases, barely noticed – the 50th anniversary of the Islands’ entrance into the U.S. as the 50th state. That also means it’s been 50 years since the country last added a state, the longest period of statehood stability in U.S. history, putting the once burgeoning industry of American flag redesigners permanently out of business.

It’s a nice, fat, comfortable number, but nowhere is it written that 50 is the max-out point for states the country can hold. I say it’s in the best interest of almost everyone, certainly everyone in Santa Cruz County, that we consider breaking the seal on 50 and adding more states, not by conquering new lands, but downsizing those we already have.

Yes, I’m looking at you, California.

It’s become increasingly clear that we Californians are living in a failed state. I’m tempted to call the situation in Sacramento a farce, but at least a farce has a script. This is more like a bad improv comedy marathon. We might in fact be reaching the point where we admit to ourselves that since we’ve lost the talent and will to build bridges, maybe we should start building fences instead.

Maybe it’s time to carve up California like a Christmas turkey (or, if you prefer, a Solstice tofurkey).

Yes, it’s a drastic solution. And no, I don’t want to have to get new license plates either. But breaking California up into two, three, even four states will give us all a chance to flip the Etch-a-Sketch on this absurd claptrap state government we have now and start all over on a more manageable scale. And it will also give us more muscle in Washington.

The death of Teddy Kennedy, for instance, underscores just how powerful and majestic a perch a seat in the U.S. Senate really is. It’s not called the “Upper Body” for nothing. Yet, the Senate is where Californians get hosed every time someone bangs a gavel. The Senate, of course, takes two senators from each state regardless of population. California has the same number of people as the bottom 21 states on the population list combined. Now, let’s look at the Senate representation scoreboard: The bottom states, 42 seats; California 2.

With a tenth of the country’s population, California gets two seats out of 100 in the Senate. Wyoming, with less than a third of the population of Santa Clara County, also gets two senators (one of whom, by the way,  is part of the infamous “Gang of Six” on the Senate Finance Committee who recently admitted he has no interest in compromising in his obstruction of health-care legislation).

That means that the the vote for Senate of your average Casper cowboy is about 60 times more powerful than yours.

A divvied-up California, then, means more seats in the Senate. Good for everyone, but perhaps Wyoming.

In presidential election years, we in California are around only to provide the ballast for the blue side, while voters in swing states decide the direction of the country. With four states in place of present-day California, maybe the swing vote will swing back west. And, as frustrated as California liberals are, there is no voter quite as disenfranchised as the California conservative. With a newly red Central Valley state, for instance, Republicans can put at least part of California in play.

As for state governments, who wouldn’t be happy to wriggle out of the crazy-quilt rule-by-proposition system we have now? Really, what voter in Berkeley or Lodi or Simi Valley wouldn’t jump at the chance to make political decisions free of the influence of the other two? We’d all have to re-address questions of taxes, prisons, schools, gay marriage, medical marijuana, etc. But those are exactly the questions that resist any kind of solution in a state as unwieldy and contentious as this one.

But is there a strong “patriotic” sentiment to keep the state whole? Does California have a Lincoln who would resist the break-up on grounds other than plain old inertia?

California does indeed exist as an emotional abstraction in a way other states do not, for both residents and outsiders. It would be a shame to lose those romantic Golden State notions that inspired everyone from the original 49ers to the Beach Boys. But didn’t I hear something in President Obama’s inaugural speech about putting away childish things?

Oh, but where to draw these boundaries? That would be a thorny question, no doubt. But it would only be controversial in places like San Luis Obispo or Davis or Bakersfield that exist close to where those boundaries might naturally fall anyway.

How many states are we talking about here? Do we break the banana-shaped state neatly in half on an east-west axis creating North and South California? Or do we draw circles around the Bay Area and the L.A. Basin and separate out the desert east of L.A., the agricultural Central Valley, the fishing-and-lumber-rich far north?

C’mon, wouldn’t this be fun?

We here in Santa Cruz County would likely be part of the vast coastal region that surrounds San Francisco from Sonoma County down to Big Sur (Gratefuldeadistan?). Los Angeles County, which alone has more people than all but eight other states, could practically become its own state (Schwarzeneggeria?). And, by area, the Central Valley (I-5Land?) would be larger than many of the eastern states.

That’s what’s called a win-win, people. Sometimes, divorce is better for everybody involved.

And there’s also the anti-recession, job-creating, economic argument to be made as well. Somebody’s got to make all those new state flags and modify all those American ones.

If for no other reason, let’s do it for the flag industry, the mapmakers and those who make the chairs in the United States Senate. Every little bit helps, you know.


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