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Is America ready for six Californias?

Proposal to divide California into six states would throw away a huge economic advantage

Can America deal with six Californias? If the pipe dream of Menlo Park venture capitalist Timothy Draper becomes a reality, there will be five extra states along the coast between Oregon and the Mexican border and 10 extra senators voting in Washington.

On Tuesday, Draper submitted to California election officials the first in a pile of petitions containing 1.3 million signatures that, if valid, will put an initiative on the ballot in 2016 to carve up the Golden State into six smaller states. Draper says California is too big and its size has led to a dysfunctional state government that is too distant from the people. Draper claims the six-state solution is the best remedy.

Following county lines, Draper has outlined a sextet of new states and given them names. In the north, where disgruntled rural residents have long complained about being ignored by lawmakers in Sacramento, Draper proposes a state called Jefferson – sort of a woodsy South Oregon. Below that would be a strip running from coastal Marin County all the way to Lake Tahoe, with Sacramento at its center. This would be called North California. The broad agricultural lands of the Central Valley would become Central California. The far south, including Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs and the desert areas, would become South California – sort of an Arizona with beaches. West California would include much of what most Americans think of as stereotypical California – L.A.’s tangle of freeways, the movie industry, Disneyland and the surfing beaches up to Santa Barbara.

The sixth proposed state – one that has raised the most eyebrows – is named Silicon Valley, encompassing the cluster of high-tech firms with which that name has become synonymous, as well as San Francisco, Oakland and Monterey County. Cynics suspect that Draper’s real motivation in proposing the division of the state has mostly to do with enhancing the position of the industry of which he is a part. A state of Silicon Valley – home to Google, Facebook and Apple – would be an economic dynamo freed from meddling legislators in Sacramento and liberated from sharing its immense wealth with poorer parts of the old, unified California.

Whatever Draper’s motivations may be, nobody expects his proposal to succeed. Even if the current negative sentiments of voters shift and the ballot measure passes, it will amount to no more than an advisory vote. Only Congress can create new states, and something this radical will never get through a Congress as divided as the current one.

Were the powers-that-be inside the Beltway to unexpectedly develop an interest in adding five new stars to the flag, the addition of new senators hailing from those new states would be too unsettling to the status quo. Judging by current voting patterns, Republicans might initially have something to gain. They would stand a good chance of picking up eight of the 12 Senate seats. However, with the Latino population continuing to grow in the proposed South California, two of those seats could quickly flip to the Democrats in the near future.

No matter how the new Senate seats got divvied up, such partisan concerns would ultimately be less of a political factor than regional rivalries. Would politicians and voters in the rest of the country be eager to see 10 additional senators from the West Coast? Not likely.

And that’s just fine. Although, California’s 37 million citizens are wildly underrepresented in the Senate compared, for example, to the half million residents of Wyoming, the six-state solution would do far more damage than good. California is vast and encompasses regions and communities that are very different from one another. Yes, that makes debates contentious and government unwieldy. But Californians are better off together than apart. The cultural and economic diversity of the state is a huge, dynamic advantage that most states – even most nations – do not have.

It would be pretty stupid to toss that aside just because Yreka is a long way from Malibu.

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