Republicans dismissing the “three Californias” ballot initiative as another nutty idea from Left Coast liberals might want to take a closer look at the proposed state lines.
The measure, which qualified Tuesday for the Nov. 6 ballot, would divide California into three states, including one dubbed “Southern California” that would include San Diego, Orange County and the Central Valley — but not Los Angeles County — for a jurisdiction with real red-state possibilities.
“Would that excite Republicans? Sure,” said Los Angeles-based political strategist Darry Sragow. “If I were a Republican, I might say, ‘Well, this could be our turf.’”
Venture capitalist Tim Draper, the initiative’s brainchild, has touted Cal 3 as a “fresh start” that will deliver improvements in education, infrastructure and tax policy, but its potential to upend the national political map by spinning off new states makes it impossible to ignore the partisan implications.
For Democrats, who already control California as a virtual one-party state, there is no upside, while Republicans have little to lose after watching their registration numbers fall in May behind those of voters with no party preference.
The initiative would replace blue California with a potentially red state and two even bluer states: “Northern California,” which would include San Francisco and Sacramento, and “California,” which would run along the coast from Los Angeles to Monterey.
Such a change would instantly make Republicans more competitive in presidential contests, giving the party a crack at winning some of California’s 55 electoral votes for the first time since 1988.
Republicans have all but conceded California in recent presidential races. Even so, voters in the proposed state of Southern California swung for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, said Vikram David Amar, University of Illinois College of Law professor.
“Because the newly created ‘Southern California’ state could easily vote for a Republican presidential candidate (as noted above, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in 2012 in this region) and give its 18 or so electors to a Republican, then Democrats would run a serious risk moving from a 55-0 advantage in California to something like 41-18,” Mr. Amar said in a Sept. 8 post on Verdict.
The ramifications for the Senate are mixed.
If “Southern California” sends two Republicans to the Senate — and “California” and “Northern California” send four Democrats — then the partisan balance remains the same as today, with Democrats having a two-senator edge.
On the other hand, if “Southern California” split its Senate representation, dividing 5-1 instead of 4-2, then Republicans lose ground.
“I would be careful what you wish for,” said Mr. Sragow, publisher of the California Target Book. “We all know that the law of unintended consequences is alive and well.”
Indeed, the California Republican Party has opted to stiff-arm the Cal 3 proposal.
“At our most recent convention, our delegates overwhelmingly accepted the recommendation of our Initiatives Committee to oppose this measure,” said California Republican Party spokesman Matthew Fleming.
Steven Maviglio, spokesman for OneCalifornia, which opposes the Cal 3 proposal, argued that Republicans have fought too hard against handing a pair of Senate seats to Washington to take such a risk.
“The trend line is going against them,” Mr. Maviglio said. “Republican numbers in this state are vaporizing, and the Democrats continue to increase. That part of the state is more Latino and getting more Latino than the rest of the state. I don’t see how the numbers could work out. It’s pretty risky at best.”
His group, headed by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, has been hammering at the proposal for months, accusing Mr. Draper of dragging the state into an expensive mud fight for a measure that has no prospects for success.
A KPIX5/SurveyUSA poll released April 24 found that only 17 percent supported Cal 3, while 72 were opposed and 10 percent were undecided.
“This, to me, is a massive abuse of our initiative system,” said Mr. Maviglio. “Because a billionaire can write a check to get a wacky idea on the ballot, he has to subject the whole state to a campaign?”
On the other hand, said Mr. Sragow, the quirky, inventive proposal has infused “a little fun into what will be a pretty hard-fought general election.”
“I don’t think anybody can look at this measure and not crack a smile,” said Mr. Sragow, a fifth-generation Californian. “It raises a legitimate policy question, but it also strikes people as something that we Californians are known for, which is that we do things that are a little bit wacky.”
The initiative, which easily cleared the signature-gathering bar, would direct the governor to ask Congress for permission to split the states into the three entities and charge the state legislature with dividing up California’s assets and liabilities.
Mr. Draper’s previous “six Californias” measure failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot based in part on concerns about economic inequities among the proposed states, but his latest plan creates three states with about 13 million residents each and less of an income divide.
“Meaningful improvement has proven impossible through the Sacramento system of top-down control,” said the Cal 3 website. “This isn’t about politics — this is about sustainable solutions to intractable issues that impact Californians every day — like our local schools, infrastructure and government responsiveness.”
The Cal 3 initiative comes with interest growing in plans to break up or break off California. A measure to have California secede from the union, known as CalExit, is still in the signature-gathering stage.
In agricultural communities, support is building for a proposal to split California into two by creating a rural-based second state called New California.
Mr. Sragow is looking forward to seeing how the Cal 3 race plays out.
“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “It could be met with crickets, but it’s an experiment, and [Mr. Draper] deserves credit for doing this.”
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