Split California

That is, as a geographical suggestion, rather than (possibly sound) personal advice.

A perennial suggestion that comes up is that California ought to be split into two or three states. Following the recall, I suggested to someone, more or less jokingly, that it may be time to try to get a referendum going for that to happen again. The suggestion was met with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.

There have apparently been forty-some proposals to split the state circulated in the past. The recall shows us that persistence can pay off, though that only took thirty-some times.


How many pieces?
Divided where?
How do we apportion the existing debt?

And so on.

To begin with, the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco metropolitan areas should be separated out as city-states – that is, each metro area would have a consolidated government with the full constitutional powers and functions of a state, and which would be responsible for metropolitan problems such as transportation and growth management. The other states, however many, would not include major metropolitan areas within their borders, thus would not be responsible for urban or metropolitan problems, and could focus their energies on more rural concerns.

The debt should be apportioned among the new states on a per capita basis. That means the city-states would bear most of if, but they would also have the most resources to pay it off.

I’d like to propose an old idea:

Los Angeles, San Bernadino, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and Imperial Counties are detached from the rest of the state, and become The State of Southern California, and we divide the debt based on population.

The real question is: How do you convince the other states that California should have four or six senators, instead of two? If you can’t clear that hurdle, the rest is just pipe-dreaming!

Posted by Early Out:

Well, in the past 10 years a lot of political thinkers have been complaining about the “malapportionment” of the Senate – that is, the fact that the two-senators-per-state rule inflates the political power of the voters of underpopulated states. Breaking up some of our larger states would go some small distance towards correcting that problem. In an article in Mother Jones, January/February 1998 (http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JF98/lind.html), Michael Lind argued for making more and smaller states out of California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida – not for more efficient state government, but just so the peoples of those states could have more representation in the Senate. From the article:

By the way, this article includes a map of California split into eight states. From north to south, they are labeled Vineland, Marin, Siliconia, Reagan, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.

But BrainGlutton, the whole purpose of the two-Senators-per-state scheme was to protect the interests of the smaller states against the power of the larger states (remember, the states regarded themselves more as sovereign nations than they do today). The House of Representatives, on the other hand, was set up to provide proportional representation. If you make the Senate just like the House, why have two houses at all?

Posted by Early Out:

You are stating the problem, Early, not the solution.

No, sir. The House of Representatives is elected by a single-member-district, winner-take-all system, not proportional representation, which was not invented until the 19th century. Proportional representation, of which there are various forms, is a system that allocates seats in a legislature or other multimember policymaking body among the various parties in proportion to their electoral support. Most of the world’s democracies use it, the notable exceptions being France, Britain, and Britain’s former colonies (including the U.S.). For more information on proportional representation, see the website of the Center for Voting and Democracy, www.fairvote.org.

In my view, we shouldn’t have two houses. We’ve already had a GD thread on that – “Should the United States Senate be abolished?” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=181890.

BrainGlutton, I believe that Early meant “proportional representation” as in “propotionate to the population”, not in the electoral system sense.

Precisely, Governor Quinn - thank you. More populous states get more representatives in the House - the number of representatives from each state is proportional to the population of that state (roughly). I’m well aware that the number of Democratic and Republican representatives in the House isn’t proportional to the number of votes each party has received, which is what BrainGlutton is referring to. (Query, BrainGlutton - do I seem to be stupid to you, or were you just making a pedantic, and irrelevant, point?)

My point, which seems to have gotten lost in all of this, is that splitting California into multiple states just ain’t gonna happen. First, you’d have to abolish the Senate. Lotsa luck.

Native Californian here, allow me to chime in.

First, the concept of splitting Northern and Southern California won’t work because it’s based on a flawed premise–that the two halves of the state are fundamentally irreconcilable, politically. They’re not. They’re actually very similar. I’d venture to say that the average citizen of the LA Basin would find more political commonality with his counterpart in the Bay Area than with a rural farmer in Imperial County. This whole North-South thing works for baseball teams, but not really in an economic sense. I can’t see that splitting the state would cause much damage, but I also can’t see much in the way of political motivation.

Second, I’d like to thank the OP. I’m really tired of everyone being so down on California right now, and I thought this thread would be called, “Split California . . . off from the rest of the Union, before those crazy nutballs move into my neighborhood and start taking drugs.” We get that a lot.

Posted by Early Out:

The issue of proportional representation, as a political reform we need here, is a very important one to me, and I hate to see the terminology abused. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone use “proportional representation” to refer to the existing system for electing the House of Representatives, and I am resolved to stamp on that wherever I find it. This is not just a point of pedantry. PR will never even be seriously discussed in this country until average Americans learn what the term means. As things are now, not only is the average voter completely ignorant of this subject, but most American politicians I have met couldn’t define PR to save their offices.

Proportional representation means exactly what Early Out said it means. Representation proportionate to population.

It also means what you mean, seats apportioned out proportionally to share of votes.

Both are correct. But only one of you is being pedantic.

Now, then back to California. Everyone ignores the obvious problem. Water. Depending on how you divided the state, there could be a real problem with that.

Posted by Neurotik:

Sigh. No, sir. Play whatever grammar-games you want, but “proportional representation” is a technical term in political science. Look it up in any polysci text that covers different electoral systems. Or just google it and see what happens. “Proportional representation” has only one proper meaning and that meaning does not encompass the method by which the U.S. House of Representatives is elected at present.

By the way, “proportional representation” has nothing to do with racially gerrymandered districts, either – another error I have encountered more than once.

Posted by Neurotik:

Yes, that does complicate things. Allocation of water in the Southwest is governed by a kind of interstate treaty called the Law of the Colorado River. From The City in Mind by James Howard Kunstler (Free Press, 2001), pp. 158-159 (from a chapter that is really about Las Vegas):

If California breaks up into several states, that raises the question of how to divide California’s water allocation under the Law of the Colorado River. Per-capita allocation would not be an obviously practical solution as so much of that water goes for agriculture in underpopulated rural areas. And if the question is raised at all, then all of California’s neighbors will jump at the chance to call for revising the basic terms of the LOTCR, in their favor.

OK, you’re absolutely right.

Now, what do you call the system whereby the number of Representatives from each state is determined by the population of that state? As a starting point, the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, reads: “Representatives … shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers…”

All I know is that I’ve had to do travel quite a bit to get my magic number down to 2 (Alaska and North Dakota) if I suddenly have 8 more states I have to go to in California alone, I’m gonna be pissed.

And then those parasitic urban centers would have to deal with their own water problems instead of demanding that it be piped in from the countryside. That’s one of the reasons that NYC should be cut loose from New York.

Posted by Early Out:

It does not have a technical name, so far as I know. But the particular system (not expressly mandated by the Constitution) that all states have used to implement this provision does have a name: the single-member-district system. One district (roughly the same population as every other district), one election winner, one representative.

Posted by Dogface:

New York City has a water problem too? I hadn’t heard.

Anyway, I assume you’re joking. You are joking, right? Just because a city is a separate state from the surrounding countryside doesn’t mean it must rely on its own territory for water. California as a whole does not rely on its own water resources, as explained above; it gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado River. Los Angeles was only able to grow into a great city because it bought the water rights to the Owens River Valley in 1905. (See http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Reseda_HS/Waterweb/aquilarwtr/lawaterpg.html.) And nobody seriously wants to alter that state of affairs. If Greater Los Angeles becomes a separate state, it will be on terms that allow it to go on pumping in water via aqueducts, across the new state lines; or the Owens River Valley might be included within the borders of the new state of Los Angeles. Because not all non-residents of urban centers think of those urban centers as “parasitic.” Only a radical environmentalist or a 19th-century agrarian populist would think that way.

It would be a good idea for NYC to be cut loose from the state of New York – provided the new state was not limited to the Five Boroughs, but also included all the adjacent urban and suburban counties of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. But water has nothing to do with it.