Draper’s plan to split up California makes waves
Venture capitalist’s initiative qualifies for November vote
SAN FRANCISCO – Even in Silicon Valley, where wildly improbable ideas are the coin of the realm, few people put much stock in Tim Draper’s radical plan to break up California.
But the iconoclastic 60-year-old venture capitalist is savoring victory this week after his initiative to split California into three states got enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Draper, who made a name for himself funding Hotmail, Skype and Tesla and as an outspoken champion of cryptocurrency, says California is failing its citizens. He ticks off the ways one by one: deteriorating quality of life, crumbling roads and bridges, an underper- forming education system, ballooning pension obligations, political cronyism and unfriendly policies that are driving businesses out of state.
The only answer, he says, is to start over with smaller states that can run more efficiently and with less red tape. Greater competition would force governments to be more responsive to the needs of residents and businesses. And, he claims, California would get six Senate seats and more political clout in Washington.
If this sounds like an elevator pitch from a starry-eyed start-up vying to disrupt an established industry, that’s because it is – but this one is squarely aimed at California voters.
“There’s a monopoly government in California, and I’m a startup guy,” Draper told USA TODAY. “When there’s a monopoly industry or an oligopoly industry where the service is bad and the price is
high, I look at that as an opportunity for an entrepreneur or somebody to come in and create a better service at a lower cost.”
His arguments have not swayed Californians in the past. A previous effort to slice up the state into six parts failed to make it onto the ballot twice.
In September, Draper rebooted the campaign with a more tempered approach to redrawing state lines, with one state centered around Los Angeles and the other two slicing up the counties to the north and south.
Draper is tapping a rich vein of resentment in California, between the more liberal coastal population centers and the more conservative mountain areas and between its citizens and the state’s sprawling bureaucracy.
But he faces hurdles. Among them: it would probably require the approval of the California legislature and Congress, ratification by 38 states and the blessing of President Donald Trump. There’s loads of opposition, including the NoCABreakup group led by former Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabien Nunez, and little popular support. An April poll found only that 17 percent of California voters support the idea.
“California government can do a better job addressing real issues facing the state, but this measure is a massive distraction that will cause political chaos and greater inequality,” said Steve Maviglio, who is running an opposition campaign to Draper’s effort.
Plus, Draper’s plan has competition from an alternative proposal – another group wants California to secede from the U.S. in a “Calexit” movement. History isn’t on his side, either: The last time the breakup of a state was approved by the U.S. government was in 1863, when West Virginia wanted to split with Virginia during the Civil War.
Draper dismisses talk that the odds are against him. Now that the initiative is on the ballot, he says it’s catching fire.
“Every startup has hurdles,” he says. If it succeeds, “this would be tremendous. You’d get a clean slate. You wouldn’t have all the baggage that’s keeping California down. Each state would have its own way of governing and would be held accountable by its citizens who might move from one state to another if they didn’t like what was going on in that state.”
Yet despite dipping their toes in state politics for pet causes, few if any technology leaders have staked their personal reputations and millions of dollars on a single initiative in such a high-profile way.
A lanky man with a baritone voice and libertarian views, Draper is a third-generation venture capitalist who grew up riding his bike on the dirt path that is now Sand Hill Road. He’s known for risktaking, whether it’s making multimillion-dollar bets on unproven tech startups, being chased by a Cape buffalo in Africa, hanging from a Cirque du Soleil trapeze at his 50th birthday party or swimming across the frigid San Francisco Bay without a wetsuit. One night in China a street vendor convinced him to down a cup of what allegedly was snake blood to improve his brain.
For a member of the Silicon Valley establishment, Draper has always thought pretty far outside the box. In a place where venture capitalists wear a uniform (button downs, Patagonia vests and khakis), he sticks to suits. Instead of concentrating his investments, he has a scatter-shot approach that has produced a few huge payoffs. And this denizen of all things technology isn’t shy about venturing into new arenas. He co-owns two safari camps and an island resort in Tanzania and played Principal Schmoke on Nickelodeon’s The Naked Brothers Band.
1 – Population figures are estimated. SOURCE California's Secretary of State