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Backers seeking to break California away from the U.S. started collecting signatures Friday to get a proposed independence measure on the 2018 statewide ballot.
This isn't the first effort aimed at California secession but leaders say the previous tries were mostly about building awareness of the issue and increasing public support. They say recent polls show more Californians want a divorce from the union and believe that President Donald Trump's election also has boosted their cause.
"We definitely see that there's some newfound support for this and we want to get the signatures out there, especially now because we're in the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency when he's going to be aggressively pursuing his policies that the people of California are going to reject — and have rejected," Louis Marinelli, president of the Yes California Independence movement, said in an interview Friday.
However, the state-prepared summary on the petition from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla calls out the uncertain road ahead in this effort, which would have multiple hurdles.
Specifically, the summary said "the fiscal impact of this measure is dependent on various factors, including a vote by the people on this measure, a subsequent vote on California independence, possible legal challenges, and implementation issues. Assuming that California actually became an independent nation, the state and its local governments would experience major, but unknown, budgetary impacts."
In terms of annual GDP, California would rank sixth worldwide if it were a separate nation. California, home to about one out of every eight Americans, voted in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Marinelli pointed to a recent opinion poll by Reuters/Ipsos showing one third of California residents now support breaking away from the U.S. The Reuters poll of 500 Californians, which was conducted from Dec. 6 to Jan. 19, found 32 percent support for the withdrawal. That compares with about 20 percent support, or one-in-five Californians, who backed the secession idea in 2014.
According to Marinelli, the so-called Calexit backers have about 7,000 supporters mobilized to gather signatures statewide for the new California nationhood initiative. The California Secretary of State's office said Thursday the backers of the measure must collect the signatures of 585,407 registered voters to qualify for the ballot. Organizers have until July 25, 2017, to meet the requirement.
"We think it's going to be quite easy for us to make the sell," said Marinelli. "California is a different place and has its own culture, its own history, its own identity, its own world view, and its own ideology in a large respect. So we would feel better off if we can set our own destiny, set our own path forward and not be connected to a lot of these obsolete policies of the American system."
Added Marinelli, "There's a lot of this dysfunction going on in the American system, the corruption in Washington, the animosity within the United States as a whole. So we want to break away from all that and set a new path forward. To establish for ourselves some kind of progressive republic on the western shores of North America."
The referendum aims to repeal a provision in the state's constitution that reads "California is an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land."
"What we want to do is give the people of California the chance to vote yes or no on independence," said Marinelli. "If the people want to stay in the country and they want to remain a state they can vote no. We're certainly going to be focusing on the argument about convincing people why it's better for us to become our own country."
Calexit backers see divorce from the union as a two-step process — first the vote in 2018 to repeal the "inseparable" provision from the state constitution and then a special election in 2019 for the independence vote itself.