The 'Calexit' plan to split California from the US gets a second chance, while others are looking to break up the state

Key Points
  • A proposed California secession measure has been cleared to begin gathering needed signatures to qualify for the ballot.
  • A similar effort by the so-called Calexit organizers failed last year.
  • At the same time, there's an initiative backed by billionaire Tim Draper to split California into three states that could make the Nov. 6 ballot.
  • Yet another proposal known as "New California" seeks to carve out rural counties into the 51st state and is critical of the state's sanctuary policies.
Calexit plan to divorce California from US is getting a second chance
Calexit plan to divorce California from US is getting a second chance

California's secession movement will get a second try as the state's "war" against the Trump administration rages on several fronts.

On Monday, the California Secretary of State's Office announced that a secession ballot proposal has been cleared to begin gathering needed signatures. It comes amid other efforts that seek to split up California.

"Calexit is left — we are progressive, and that's why we don't like Trump," said Marcus Ruiz Evans, one of the leaders of the Yes California campaign seeking California independence. "But there are some very hardcore Republican concepts to Calexit, including the group saying don't waste our tax money."

Evans said the group's membership has risen by "about four times" to roughly 44,000 members since the election of President Donald Trump.

California celebrates first 4/20 since pot legalization
California celebrates first 4/20 since pot legalization

A similar effort by the backers of Calexit failed last year after negative fallout emerged following the disclosure that its leader, Louis J. Marinelli, was living in Russia. Marinelli, who is still listed as one of the backers of the measure, said in an interview he "travels to Russia and has worked there from time to time but is still a resident of California."

If the current Calexit measure gets enough signatures to qualify, it would result in a special election in 2021 to ask California voters whether the state should become an independent country. The backers have until mid-October to get almost 366,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify it for the ballot.

Long-shot effort

However, some analysts suggest the secession effort has a long shot passing. A Berkeley IGS Poll released in March 2017 found Californians oppose independence from the U.S. by more than 2-to-1.

"They'll be a lot of notoriety, there will be a lot of publicity but I think in practical terms it's going to fizzle out," said Seth Kaplowitz, a finance lecturer at San Diego State University. "It would be ridiculous to secede from the union. The only person who would probably be happy about that is probably Donald Trump."

There have been more than 200 attempts throughout California's history to split up the state.

Fifth-largest economy in the world

Some argue that California, the fifth-largest economy in the world, already has essentially acted like a separate country by signing agreements, or memorandums of understanding, with nations on issues as well as climate change.

For example, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement last year to work with China to fight climate change. That move came a week after Trump announced his intention for the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

California's state leaders also have taken a different view from the Trump administration when it comes to issues including offshore oil drilling, undocumented immigration, health care, federal lands.

'War' with the Trump administration

Earlier this month, the Trump administration filed a lawsuit against California's so-called sanctuary state laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants. In response, Brown said, "This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy."

Trump reviews border wall prototypes in California
Trump reviews border wall prototypes in California

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed between California and the federal government since Trump was sworn into office in January 2017. Trump, who has called California "out of control," sought to cut law enforcement funds over the sanctuary policies in the state last year but a court ruled against the administration.

Getting shortchanged

Regardless, Evans contends that Californians don't get their fair share of federal spending for the money paid by taxpayers in the Golden State. Figures from the conservative Tax Foundation show California got back an estimated 78 cents on each dollar paid in 2005 to the federal government while Alabama received $1.66 and Kentucky got $1.51.

Evans maintains that if California were an independent nation, it could eliminate bureaucracy by half and cut overall taxes for businesses and individuals.

Kaplowitz doesn't buy the argument that an independent California would necessarily help business.

"Everybody is leaving California because they're overtaxed by the state," he said. "Businesses are leaving, people are moving to Washington state and Texas and the other states that don't have [an] income tax."

Splitting California in three

Meantime, there's also a measure backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper to split California into three separate states.

Draper's plan would create a Northern California state that includes San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Sacramento, a Southern California state with San Diego, the Inland Empire counties and portions of the state's southern Central Valley. A third state would retain the name California and include Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and several other counties along the coast.

"All this is basically saying is that we're really not one state — we're so large and we really have three different personalities," said Kaplowitz. "Therefore, each personality should be its own state. The reality is that you can say that about virtually any state."

November ballot

Draper, chairman of the so-called "CAL 3" campaign, announced earlier this month his group planned to submit more than 600,000 signatures, or nearly twice the amount required by law, to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

"CAL 3 is committed to solving California's most pressing issues, including the state's failing school systems that impact more than 6 million kids, highest-in-the-nation taxes, deteriorating infrastructure and strained government," the group said recently. "Partitioning California into three states would empower regional communities to make better, fairer and more sensible decisions for their citizens."

This isn't the first time Draper has sought to split up California. He backed a 2014 effort to break up California into six states, but despite spending more than $5 million on the measure it failed to qualify for the ballot.

Even if Draper's group gets enough signatures this time, though, it still won't be easy to split up the state, which joined the union in 1850. The Legislature would need to give its consent along with Congress.

Creating a 'New California'

At the same time, there's a "New California" conservative movement that seeks to carve out rural counties into the 51st state. But this isn't a ballot initiative. The group is lining up support in counties and then hopes to take it to the Legislature and then Congress.

So far, the group claims to have at least 38 of the state's 58 counties.

"People are really disenchanted with what they're seeing in Sacramento," said Paul Preston, vice chair of the New California movement.

He complained that the controversial sanctuary state law along with state over-regulation are just some of the concerns fueling interest in the split.

"We'll have 49 counties at the end of this," said Preston. "We want this to be a win-win for California and New California."

But Kaplowitz said having California split into three separate states — or even a 51st state — would be "unruly and chances of it happening any time soon are slim to none."