Californias’ dreaming

Every so often, there are proposals to split the state of California.  Some prefer a north-south split, while some want coast vs. inland, and a few would like San Francisco to be its own state.  It’s not surprising that there are proposals to split the state.  What is surprising is that none of them have yet succeeded, and that very few states have split (Maine from the geographically separated Mass., West Virginia from Virginia in the Civil War).

It’s comparatively easy to split a U.S. state – all you need is the approval of the state legislature and Congress.  Why might you want to?  Here’s a couple of reasons:

1) Suppose your state is pretty homogeneous politically.  Then you can double its senators by splitting, and gain at least 2 electoral votes.

2) On the other hand, suppose your state is roughly 50-50 with mostly Republicans in the North and Democrats in the South.  By splitting the state, politicians from both parties can gerrymander themselves into safe governorships and senate seats.

(1) is pretty dangerous, at least in theory.  A party in control of Congress and enough states could split its states as much as it liked.  Taken to an extreme, it could completely control the Senate and Presidency (where several mini-states would each get 3 electoral votes, outweighing any competition).  If we were computer scientists, we would say that the U.S. constitution was fatally broken.

In practice, we could probably rely on the states’ mutual suspicion to stop things getting out of hand, but proposals don’t even seem to make it to Congress.  Something seems to have gone terribly right with the system.  But what?  Does state pride limit any such movements?  Did the Civil War make splitting in general seem like a bad idea?  Or will it be the next play of the Republicans, similarly to how they used redistricting in Texas?  If we start to see a Citizens’ Committee for a South-East Dakota, watch out.


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