Southern rebels demand break-up of the golden state

Tired of liberals and state debt, southern Californian Jeff Stone has come up with a radical secessionist plan. Guy Adams reports

They can keep their giant redwood trees and Golden Gate Bridge.

They can even have booming Silicon Valley, Hollywood's world-famous hills, Napa's wine region and the spectacular coastline of Big Sur. And, let's be honest, will anyone really miss all those pot-smoking hippies who live north of Eureka?

Frustrated by the fiscally bankrupt mess that is Californian politics, and angered by what he sees as the never-ending succession of woolly liberals elected to its government, a conservative lawmaker from Southern California is proposing a radical solution to the Golden State's myriad problems: divide it into two.

Jeff Stone, a Supervisor from Riverside County east of Los Angeles, claims widespread support for his proposal, which formally launched this month and, in the unlikely event it succeeds, would increase the number of United States in America from 50 to 51.

The "two-state solution" will see the region known locally as SoCal secede from its northern counterpart. Mr Stone's bit, which will include San Diego, Orange County, and portions of Greater Los Angeles, where Republicans tend to live, will be highly Conservative. Its counterpart by contrast will be extremely liberal.

This week, Mr Stone announced a summit to explore his initiative. He also launched an official website, "California Rebellion 2012", with a view to organising a ballot measure offering the roughly 37 million residents of the nation's most populous state the chance to vote on whether to split at next year's November election.

"This has struck a chord with a lot of people," he told reporters, claiming to have already received thousands of emails supporting his big idea. "We know that it's going to be a challenge to form a second state, but it's not impossible. We're sending a message: things have to change."

Mr Stone's proposal, which was unanimously supported at a vote this month by fellow Riverside County Supervisors, highlights both the recent polarisation of politics and the long-standing frustration of California's minority Republicans at the Democratically-controlled state's failure to balance its books. The legislature has spent most of the past decade in fiscal crisis, and is currently around $26 billion in the red.

"We have businesses leaving all the time, and we're just driving down a cliff to become a third-world economy," Mr Stone told the New York Times, perhaps ignoring the fact that California's economy remains the eighth largest in the world.

"At some point we have to decide enough is enough and deal with it in a radically new way... I am tired of California being the laughing stock of late-night jokes," he added.

His separatist philosophy also illustrates the widely differing geography and philosophies which divide the two regions. The north of the state is rainy, environmentally aware, and fond of progressive, European-style social policies. The south is dry, full of clogged freeways, and vastly more suburban in its outlook.

Northern California was built on the Gold Rush of 1849, when entrepreneurs came west to seek their fortune in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Southern California, which has a stronger Hispanic heritage, was once part of Mexico. It achieved prominence in the early 20th century, with the growth of Hollywood, and grew rapidly after the Second World War.

But while the polarised demographics of the state might in theory make the division seem like a compelling idea, experts say that political reality is stacked against Mr Stone. For the split to occur, it would have to first be approved by a majority of Californians, and then by the US Congress. Finally, a sitting President would have to sign off on the idea.

Such splits have occurred previously in America's history, but only very rarely. West Virginia split from its eastern neighbour during the upheaval of the Civil War, but more recent efforts by parts of Texas, Florida and Idaho to separate have all failed to gain any significant traction.

Since California was founded in 1850, more than 200 proposals to break up the state have been floated and then failed to gain serious momentum. The closest any came to success is generally believed to have been in 1941, when several counties in northern California and southern Oregon campaigned to form a new state called Jefferson.

Although voters supported the idea, and local lawmakers proclaimed independence, the campaign was abandoned after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour brought America into the Second World War.

"Secession proposals are just ways of thinking about California, and are also ways for people who feel neglected to get the attention that they deserve," is how Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California sees it. He told the Los Angeles Times: "It's never passed, and it will never pass. It's been up to bat 220 times and struck out every time."

Mr Stone's proposal has also been criticised for taking liberties with geography. He would put large parts of Los Angeles, including liberal Santa Monica and Hollywood in "northern" California. Several conservative-leaning rural counties north of the city would meanwhile end up in "southern" California.

"Los Angeles is purposely excluded because they have the same liberal policies that [the state capital] Sacramento does," was how he explained the proposed boundaries.

By way of evidence to support that thesis, he added: "Los Angeles just enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags."

One person who certainly isn't taking Mr Stone seriously is California's existing Governor, Jerry Brown. "A secessionist movement? What is this, 1860?" asked his spokesman Gil Duran. "It's a supremely ridiculous waste of everybody's time. If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there's a place called Arizona."

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