SACRAMENTO — An eccentric Silicon Valley multimillionaire who dabbles in bitcoins and calls himself the “riskmaster” said Tuesday that his proposed voter initiative to break California into six states has enough support to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
Menlo Park venture capitalist Timothy Draper submitted to election officials the first batch of what he said will be 1.3 million petition signatures — more than enough for the measure to qualify as a statewide voter initiative, he said. Draper, who shuns allegiance to any political party, has spent $4.9 million of his own money on the petition drive.
FOR THE RECORD:
Splitting California: In the July 16 LATExtra section, the map accompanying an article about a proposal to divide California into six states mislabeled Santa Clara County as Santa Clarita County. —
FOR THE RECORD
A previous version of this article said that Timothy Draper had turned in a first batch of petitions, with 1.3 million signatures. The petitions are the first batch of what will be a total of 1.3 million signatures that he said he has collected.
At a news conference he organized outside the County of Sacramento Voter Registration and Elections Department, Draper faced a barrage of questions from reporters about his motives. He denied that his campaign was an attempt to seed a future political career.
Draper, 56, said that California’s government is dysfunctional in part because the state is too large. Cleaving California into six smaller pieces would create states with governments closer to the people, he said.
“When the people and their state are no longer in sync, and large populations feel that they are not being represented and when the state fails to provide the services that it promises to our citizens, then we lose our democracy,” Draper said, reading his speech from an iPad.
The ballot measure, he said, “gives us the opportunity to reboot and refresh our state government.”
County election officials will determine whether the petitions contain the valid signatures of a required 807,615 Californians who are registered to vote.
Opponents of the measure, including Democratic political strategist Steve Maviglio, are skeptical that the breakup will ever happen, but are planning a serious campaign to fight the initiative.
A Field Poll in February found that 59% of California voters oppose a breakup of the state, Maviglio noted, and the strategist predicted that the business community and Democratic and Republican leaders will campaign against it.
“There is no groundswell of support for this,” Maviglio said, adding that California “is going to be a laughingstock on Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman because of this idea. For anyone considering investment in our state, this raises a question of uncertainty.”
Even if voters approve the ballot measure, the breaking up of California would have to win approval of Congress, which he said is doubtful.
“Is Congress going to give California 10 more senators?” Maviglio asked.
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown also raised questions about the feasibility of the proposal. “The proposal has serious practical challenges,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown.
Draper said he thinks Californians will come around to support the measure as they begin discussing what the six new states would look like. He believes once Californians developed constitutions and laws for the new states, Congress would go along.
The son and grandson of venture capitalists, Draper has a degree in electrical engineering from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard. His instincts have been right before, at least when it comes to business.
Draper is co-founder of Silicon Valley investment firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which put money into tech companies, including Skype, Hotmail and Overture.com.
Last month, Draper made another risky move when he outbid others to buy more than 29,000 bitcoins — a form of digital currency — that had been seized by the government from an illegal website. The digital coins purchased by Draper are believed to be worth $19 million, although his purchase price was not revealed.
His eccentricity is on display in a video on YouTube in which, to show support for women executives, Draper does a partial striptease, taking off a piece of clothing for each female-led company in which he has invested.
Asked for his title, he said venture capitalist and “headmaster” at Draper University of Heroes, which provides courses in entrepreneurship.
In 2000, Draper and his father spent $23 million on a failed ballot measure that would have provided government-funded vouchers to help children attend private schools.
He admitted that he has some educating to do with voters about his proposed splitting of the state into the states of Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California
“I know this is a hard thing for everybody to sort of stomach,” he said of breaking up California. “The reason we are doing this for 2016 instead of 2014 is it takes time for people to understand why we need six states, why we need a better representative government.”