Accusing Sacramento of pillaging local governments to feed its runaway spending and left-wing policies, a Riverside County politician is proposing a solution: He wants 13 mostly inland, conservative counties to break away to form a separate state of "South California."
Supervisor Jeff Stone, a Republican pharmacist from Temecula, called California an "ungovernable" financial catastrophe from which businesses are fleeing and where taxpayers are being crushed by the burden of caring for welfare recipients and illegal immigrants.
On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors will consider Stone's proposal to host a statewide summit for city and county leaders to sketch out a framework for secession.
The politician said he was undaunted by scores of failed similar attempts since the 1800s, saying Californians haven't face such dismal economic times since the Great Depression.
"This has struck a chord with a lot of people in the state who have suffered economically," said Stone, adding that he has received thousands of emails supporting his proposal. "We know it's going to be a challenge to form a second state, but it's not a impossible. We're sending a message."
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, called Stone's proposal a laughable political stunt, saying the Riverside County supervisors should be more concerned about closing that county's expected $130-million revenue shortfall in the next budget year and possible cutbacks to public safety.
"It's a supremely ridiculous waste of everybody's time," said spokesman Gil Duran. "If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there's a place called Arizona."
Along with Riverside, the counties in Stone's South California would be Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Tulare.
Combined, those counties are home to about 13 million people. Republicans account for the majority of registered voters in all of those counties except San Bernardino and Imperial.
Noticeably absent from Stone's vision of an independent South California is Los Angeles County, the state's largest by population and a Democratic stronghold. Ventura and Santa Barbara counties also failed to make the cut.
"Los Angeles is purposely excluded because they have the same liberal policies that Sacramento does. The last thing I want to do is create a state that's a carbon copy of what we have now," Stone said. "Los Angeles just enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. That put three or four manufacturers out of business."
Still, Stone said he would be amenable to including other counties that might be interested, or even to shifting boundaries radically by cleaving the state between inland and coastal counties.
More than 220 campaigns to split California into halves, or thirds, have been bandied about since the 1850s, most echoing similar arguments that the state had grown too large and was paralyzed by politicians and bureaucrats who ignored the concerns of the people.
"Secession proposals are just ways of thinking about California, and are also ways for people who feel neglected get the attention that they deserve," said USC historian Kevin Starr, who has written extensively on California. "It's never passed, and it will never pass. It's been up to bat 220 times and struck out every time."