Archive for the ‘Direct Democracy’ Category

Carving Up the Golden State

July 17, 2014


Every few years, somebody comes up with a proposal to break up California into smaller states. (Usually, by some conservative who thinks the state government is “too liberal”). These proposals have always never gone anywhere, no doubt because most Californians are pretty much satisfied with the state the way it is. Now, however, a Silicon Valley billionaire named Tim Draper says he has collected more than enough signatures to put on the ballot a plan to divide up California into six states.

Draper has given these proposed states such imaginative names as “Central California”, “South California”, “West California”, and “North California”. Another state will be called “Silicon Valley”. (That’s right, it will be named after a branding gimmick.) And another state will be named “Jefferson” (after a slave owner who never set foot in California). According to SF Gate: “…Draper spent $1.3 million and hired the signature-gathering firm Arno Political Consultants, which paid collectors as much as $3 per signature.” Draper claims that California as currently exists is “ungovernable”. (If California were truly ungovernable, it would resemble Somalia.) In fact, if this plan were put into effect, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Among other things, responsibility for the state’s enormous water system would have to be divided up between six different governments. (Just think of the potential for lawsuits here.)

I once had a job verifying signatures for a company that did ballot petitions. I was struck by the huge number of redundant signatures I would find. Certain people would sign the same petitions over and over again. This suggested to me that these people weren’t really paying that close attention to what they were signing. This confirmed to me a suspicion I had always had: you can put almost anything on the ballot if you’re willing to spend enough money and hire enough collectors. “Direct democracy”, the rationale behind having ballot initiatives, is a highly problematic concept in a society in which there is an enormous disparity in wealth.

Even if this initiative passes, the plan would have to be approved by Congress, which is not likely to happen. However, this provides us with an illuminating example of how a billionaire can wast people’s time.