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More California(s) Dreaming

By Frank J. Gruber

I know that the column I wrote a month ago with my idea about solving California's political problems by breaking up the state has not caused a tsunami of comment, let alone action. However, I did receive enough inquiries to justify writing another one, to explain some of the details.

And anyway, I like writing about the idea.

Some inquirers wanted to know how exactly I would divide the state, and what the demographics would be. It's important to note that there are many ways to divide California based on the primary criterion I identified in my first column -- fairness. That means relatively equal populations, and representative demographics in all states.

But after tinkering with the map and the census figures, and talking over the idea with various people who know something about California -- including, in one case, with farmers at the Farmers Market from San Luis Obispo -- I came up with one plan that could work. Here's the map:

I call the coastal state "Pacifica," the mountain/Central Valley state "Sierra" (although it could keep "California" since it includes Sacramento), the southern state, "South California," and Los Angeles, the "State of L.A."

There are some counties that might not seem logically placed. The most difficult counties were Ventura and the two eastern Sierra counties of Mono and Inyo.

Ventura County is the most schizophrenic county in the state; part is connected to L.A. (though not many Venturans like to admit it), part to Santa Barbara, and part is still agricultural, like the Central Valley. Probably the most logical grouping would be to include it in South California, but I haven't researched whether a state can be non-contiguous.

The eastern Sierra counties present a special challenge. Although they resemble most closely Sierra in economy and culture, I included them in South California because of the difficultly in traveling from one slope of the Sierras to the other for most of the year, when the passes are snowed in.

If California broke up on these lines, this is what the demographics would look like:

New state: Sierra Pacifica So. Calif. L.A.
Pop. (in 1,000s) 7,177 8,807 9,088 9,519
Ethnic splits:        
White 67.48% 60.06% 64.18% 48.71%
African-Am. 4.51% 6.71% 5.13% 9.78%
Asian 6.09% 16.64% 8.55% 11.95%
Latino 28.05% 21.62% 32.60% 44.56%
(These numbers are based on the 2000 census; they are a little low, but they are not materially out of date for these purposes.)

You may have noticed that the percentages for the ethnic groups add up to more than 100 percent. The reason is that Latinos can be of any racial group. I am only using these numbers to show that all four states would have substantial minority populations. As opposed to the Stan Stathan plan of 1993, it's plain that no new state would be a white enclave.

The populations of the four states are all within the same range, as well, especially when one considers that the new state with the smallest population, Sierra, also has many of the fastest growing counties. The average is quite close to the national average state population.

Another question people ask me is how the new states would shake out politically, because they wonder if the politicians who would have to vote on the plan, both in Sacramento and in Washington, would go along.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans would never agree to give Californians another six senators. But the numbers show that at least in the short run, Republicans would probably gain.
Republicans would gain because some of California's electoral votes -- now a lock for Democrats -- would be up for grabs. Democrats would gain because they would have the possibility (only a possibility) of increasing their proportionate representation in the U.S. Senate.

To the left is a map (using the familiar red/blue, Republican/Democratic convention) that shows how California counties voted in the 2004 presidential election:

It's obvious that California has its own red/blue divide; it seems that to be a Democratic county you have to have a coast. Here are the numbers for my four states:

New state: Sierra Pacifica So. Calif. L.A.
Bush: 56.64% 31.79% 56.54% 35.93%
Kerry: 43.36% 68.21% 43.46% 68.21%

What these numbers show is that Democrats would have a lock on L.A. and Pacifica -- no surprise to anyone. At the moment, the other two states are Republican, although not overwhelmingly so. Democrats -- perhaps only the moderate kind -- could win statewide elections in them, as well as presidential elections when the country wasn't scared about national security.

Now California provides Democrats in the U.S. Senate with a 2-0 advantage. Republicans would gain, therefore, if, after California broke up into four states, there would be 4-4 tie. Democrats would hold their own at 5-3, and improve if they could take half the seats in Sierra and South California.

The idea might look scary for Democrats and national Democrats would panic over losing the lock on California's bloc of electoral votes. But if my proposal ever gets beyond the stage of my fantasies, I would hope that Democrats would take a longer-term view.

First, increasing democracy, small-d, is always a good idea for Democrats. The fact that the urban populations of L.A. and Pacifica would have their own senators and House delegations is good no matter what.

For that matter, it would also be good for the nearly 20 million people in Sierra and South California to have as many senators as, say, the few hundreds of thousands of voters in North and South Dakota have, even if they are Republicans. They are going to be better Republicans, from a Democratic point of view, that those who come from Oklahoma.

Second, the populations of Sierra and South California are changing, becoming more urban and more ethnic. As they do so, there will be more opportunities for Democrats -- local Democrats who will understand the local politics better -- to improve their showings.

Liberals on the coast will gnash their teeth, of course, at the thought that they won't have as much control over the beloved mountains and the rest of California. But what has been evident for many years -- a recently in the connection with the infrastructure bond -- is that counties like L.A. need more control over their own destinies than they need control over someone else's.

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