When considering the political climate of California, most immediately think of the Hollywood hotbed of liberal activity and the left-leaning technocrats of Silicon Valley. Even Americans tend to forget that California is a huge state, home to 40 million, with amazing cultural and intellectual diversity.
For the past 3 decades, California has been a sure thing in the Blue column come election season, leaving many Californians sick of the domination of left-wing politics. Two men have captured this frustration in the New California Movement, which aims to divide California into two states.
Robert Paul Preston and Tom Reed, the founders of the New California Movement, claim that the predominance of liberal politics from “coastal elites” has left many members of the Golden State without a voice, particularly rural farmers that tend to inhabit the center of the state. According to the founders, many Californians are now living “under a tyrannical form of government that does not follow the California and U.S. Constitutions.” They even go so far as to refer to California as a “failed state.”
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For the members of the New California Movement, these harsh words aren’t just rhetoric; the movement declared independence from the state of California on January 15th, hoping to see New California admitted as the 51st state of the Union.
Proponents of the plan argue that New California would give a greater voice to those who do not have the financial might of Californians living on the coast, while underscoring the vast cultural and economic differences that have emerged between the two populations. Opponents claim that the New California Movement is just a gerrymandering scheme.
Why a New State?
The movement’s executive summary reads, “After years of over taxation, regulation, and mono party politics the State of California and many of its 58 Counties have become ungovernable.” The New California movement points to migration data that shows middle class Californians are leaving the state in high numbers, a phenomenon known as brain drain. The founders of the movement believe that illegal immigration and bureaucratic red tape that strangles entrepreneurship are the reasons for the exodus; they blame the liberal policies that dominate California.
Despite California’s economic diversity, featuring everything from farming, to entertainment, to tech, the founders of the New California movement believe that the Golden State is lagging behind in economic opportunity, education, and health care. They also point out that California has a massive problem of income inequality and a disturbing racial wage & education gap.
The founders of the New California Movement believe that the rural citizens of California are not being heard in the state legislature, because coastal elites, spanning from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, financially dominate the political, media, and academic arenas. To the members of the movement, the only solution is to form an entirely new state, New California.
The founders of the New California Movement wrote in their “Declaration of Independence,” which closely mirrors the American Declaration of Independence, “The history of the present Governor and Government of California is a history of repeated injury and usurpation, all having in direct object that establishment of Tyranny over the Counties of New California and the State of California.”
California currently holds 55 electoral votes. That’s 20% of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. Those 55 votes are basically guaranteed to swing left, regardless of the voting patterns of California’s rural area, leaving many Californians feeling disenfranchised. On a state level, 80 of the 120 state legislative seats are held by Democrats, allowing the left to dominate state policy, something the founders of the New California movement have been unafraid to refer to as “tyranny.”
The New California Movement particularly aims to give rural counties greater sovereignty over their own economies and school systems.
The New California Movement represents the growing rural/urban divide in the US that was highlighted by the 2016 Trump campaign. “Coastal elites” are increasingly alienated from much of the country, while recent Hollywood and media scandals have eroded their moral credibility. Many Americans do not feel that they can relate culturally or financially to those living in coastal hubs like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City, and are growing weary of their domination in the cultural and political realms.
Despite the seeming rejection of left-wing politics and policies, the founders don’t necessarily believe they are leading a Conservative movement. Preston told Newsweek:
It’s really amazing that it doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, or whatever. If you’re Californian, everyone is concerned about the nature of the state. It seems to really be going across party lines at this point. You would think it might be a little more conservative on the New California side and liberal on the other, but we get calls from Los Angeles County and Sacramento.
Could a Partition Happen? Is it Legal?
Preston and Reed insist that they do have legal grounds for declaring independence and there is a system already set in place that could see an new state formed within 10 to 18 months. The New California movement points to Article IV Section 3 of the United States Constitution, particularly the Admissions Clause that allows Congress the ability to admit new states to the Union.
There hasn’t been a state partition since West Virginia split from Virginia at the onset of the Civil War in 1861 in order to join the Confederacy
The New California Movement insists that they are working within the structures laid out by the Constitution and aim at accomplishing everything lawfully. This means that they will need the approval of Californians as well as Congress, which doesn’t seem probable.
After the 2016 elections, a Calexit movement, advocating that California secede from the Union, was briefly trending on social media before losing traction when Californians realized leaving the US would require adding a new Amendment to the Constitution, a difficult task few were willing to volunteer their time towards. On the other hand, forming a new state, as proposed by the New California Movement, would not require as much legal legwork.
In 2016, a proposal was put forth to split California into 6 states, with Silicon Valley forming its own state entirely. The movement failed to accumulate enough signatures to get the proposal on the 2016 ballot.
Despite their failures, these movements indicate that there are deeply rooted cultural and political tensions in the Golden State. Venture Capitalist Tim Draper even spent more than $5 million to promote the 6 Californias plan. Could growing political unrest result in the first state partition in more than 150 years? The last time a state partition occured was during the Civil War, does the unrest in California indicate an imminent cultural/political clash across the nation?