Split Cal­i­for­nia into three states? Bil­lion­aire's ec­cen­tric idea will get a vote

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Ju­lia Car­rie Wong in San Fran­cisco

A pro­posal by the bil­lion­aire ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and Bit­coin in­vestor Tim Draper to di­vide Cal­i­for­nia into three sep­a­rate states will ap­pear on the Novem­ber 2018 bal­lot af­ter the “Cal 3” cam­paign gar­nered enough sig­na­tures for a statewide ref­er­en­dum.

Cal 3 is Draper’s lat­est ef­fort to break up the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous state. In 2014, he spent $5.2m on a cam­paign to split the state into six pieces, but failed to qual­ify for the bal­lot when only about 750,000 of the 1.14m sig­na­tures col­lected were found to be valid.

This time around, Draper cut the num­ber of new states in half, and cleared the re­quire­ment for pe­ti­tion­ers, re­port­edly pay­ing can­vassers $3 per sig­na­ture. The three new states would be North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, roughly com­pris­ing the north­ern half of the state, in­clud­ing San Fran­cisco, Sil­i­con Val­ley and Sacramento; South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, stretch­ing from Fresno to the US-Mex­ico bor­der; and Cal­i­for­nia, com­pris­ing six coastal coun­ties be­tween Los An­ge­les and Mon­terey.

“Three­CAs will give Cal­i­for­ni­ans bet­ter education, bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture and lower taxes,” Draper said in a state­ment when he launched the cam­paign in Novem­ber. “Three new state govern­ments will be able to start fresh, to in­no­vate and bet­ter serve their peo­ple.”

If ap­proved, the par­ti­tion would mark the first di­vi­sion of a US state since the pro-union West Vir­ginia broke from se­ces­sion­ist Vir­ginia dur­ing the US civil war.

But don’t start adding stars to the US flag yet: even if the idea were to win voter ap­proval, it would still have to clear nu­mer­ous hur­dles, in­clud­ing get­ting ap­proval from the US Congress.

“My guess is [vot­ers] will vote

this down, and this will all be a waste of time,” said Jim New­ton, a lec­turer in pub­lic pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Los An­ge­les. “But no chil­dren or an­i­mals will be hurt in the process. It’s a fatu­ous ex­er­cise but it’s not fa­tal.”

It’s not im­me­di­ately clear what the con­stituency is for the pro­posal, be­yond the ec­cen­tric Draper. An April poll by Sur­veyUSA found sup­port for the mea­sure among reg­is­tered vot­ers was just 17%.

Draper made his for­tune in­vest­ing in Hot­mail and Skype, and made head­lines in re­cent years over his in­vest­ments in cryp­tocur­rency and staunch sup­port of Ther­a­nos and its dis­graced founder, El­iz­a­beth Holmes. Draper also runs a school for en­trepreneurs called “Draper Uni­ver­sity of Heroes” and once per­formed a strip­tease in honor of the fe­male en­trepreneurs in whose com­pa­nies he has in­vested.

“I don’t think any­one else in the state be­sides Tim Draper thinks this is a good idea,” said Steven Mav­iglio, a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and spokesman for the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion cam­paign, OneCal­i­for­nia. “Our only dif­fi­culty is get­ting peo­ple to take it se­ri­ously ... In this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, you have to take ev­ery­thing se­ri­ously.”

The Cal 3 cam­paign blames “the Sacramento sys­tem of top­down con­trol” for the state’s var­i­ous ills, and sug­gests that hav­ing state govern­ments “closer to home” will re­sult in bet­ter out­comes for education, in­fra­struc­ture and taxes.

“I think it’s ac­tu­ally fairly lu­di­crous,” said New­ton. “Why three states? Why not 30 states? Why not 300? ... Sub­stan­tively, I don’t think it solves any prob­lems Cal­i­for­nia con­fronts.”

There are also a host of le­gal ob­sta­cles that could stymie the ef­fort.

“There’s a lot more than just an ini­tia­tive that would be re­quired to split Cal­i­for­nia in three parts,” said Eric McGhee, a re­search fel­low at the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia. “Even if this were to pass, it would face a real strug­gle in Congress, or it would be tied up in le­gal is­sues in Cal­i­for­nia, or both.”

Vikram David Amar, the dean of the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Col­lege of Law, has sug­gested that the Draper pro­posal, which is writ­ten as an amend­ment to the state con­sti­tu­tion, may not pass le­gal muster.

“There is a very strong argument that Mr Draper’s pro­posal would con­sti­tute a ‘re­vi­sion’ to rather than an ‘amend­ment’ of the Cal­i­for­nia con­sti­tu­tion,” he wrote in April. A con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion can­not be placed on the bal­lot in the same man­ner as an amend­ment.

Whether Draper has any chance of see­ing his dream come true, he has cer­tainly suc­ceeded in mak­ing the state’s vot­ers de­bate his idea, which may stir more de­bate over Cal­i­for­nia’s ref­er­en­dum process.

“We’ve got­ten fur­ther and fur­ther away from the idea that this is a pop­u­lous or pro­gres­sive process,” said New­ton. “It re­ally is a money process, and any­one with enough money that wants to get some­thing on the bal­lot can do it.”

I don’t think any­one else in the state be­sides Tim Draper thinks this is a good idea

Pho­to­graph: Danita De­limont/Getty Im­ages/ Gallo Im­ages

The tech in­vestor Tim Draper’s idea has been dis­missed as ‘a fatu­ous ex­er­cise’.

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