Saturday, July 16, 2011

"South California" in Context

With the report that Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone is toning down his efforts to lead 13 southern and inland counties in a push to secede from the rest of California, it looks like those of us yearning to break free from Sacramento's yoke of oppression will have to wait a little longer. That development aside, an interesting piece in today's LA Times reminds us that Stone's "South California" is hardly the first time someone's dreamed up a plan for splitting the state apart.

The first such plan, launched by Assemblyman Andres Pico back in 1859, actually got the blessing of the state Legislature; before Congress could give its approval, however, the Civil War brought any talk of breakaway states to a halt. Pico proposed splitting off the southern counties into a state called Colorado, complaining (much as Stone did a couple weeks ago) that southern California's residents were overtaxed and underrepresented. We'll let you contemplate the irony that the U.S. state called Colorado, which entered the Union in 1876, is now a leading destination for people fleeing California's taxes and overbearing government. The next major drive for secession occurred in 1941, when five counties in northern California joined with parts of southern Oregon in what was called the Yreka Rebellion. The rebels' goal was a new state called Jefferson. Their complaint was that the rural north was being shortchanged by Sacramento's devotion of resources to Los Angeles. Jefferson, however, experienced no better luck than Pico's Southern California: just days before its supporters were scheduled to rally in December 1941, the governor-designate died suddenly; then, three days after the planned rally, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the plan was shelved.

Nonetheless, secession re-emerged in the 1970s. In a 1970 book entitled Reagan and Reality: The Two Californias, the father of our current governor suggested splitting the state along North-South lines. Stone would doubtless look poorly on the idea of putting Los Angeles in his new state, as Pat Brown proposed. Just a year later, the Yreka Rebellion reared its head again, as Yreka state Senator Randolph Collier proposed a division into West California, which would include all the coastal counties from Marin on down, and East California, which would be everything else. This plan went nowhere, but in 1991 the state of Jefferson reappeared in the form of Shasta County Assemblyman Stan Statham's "51st State Movement." Statham's plan called for the counties north of Sacramento and San Francisco to secede. The idea was received poorly, and two years later, Statham released a revised plan calling for California to be split into North, Central, and South parts (the Times suggested naming them Insolvent California, Impoverished California, and Indigent California, which we like).

Though dozens of other secession plans have been proposed over the years in California, Stone's is the first serious one in a while. Yet all of them appear to have a common theme: any government, whether totalitarian or democratic, exists by allowing one group of citizens to live at the expense of others, and it's unrealistic to expect the second group to tolerate that arrangement indefinitely. The most notable difference between Stone's "South California" and the new states proposed by Pico and the Yreka rebels is that the North-South political distinction is less pronounced than it used to be; the Times doesn't fail to note that Los Angeles isn't part of Stone's South California, yet it includes Mono County, which stretches north of San Francisco. The desire to split the state has always been ideological, but today, it appears to be about whether or not you want your government to exist for the enrichment of its unionized employees. While Stone's proposal was always a long shot, it's caused a stir because it speaks to a genuine and deep discontent on the part of a sizable minority of Californians.

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