Breaking Up California: Give Tim Draper a Break

Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s plan to split California into 6 states has been widely panned by the entire political spectrum. Although it is true that splitting up California is a hopeless cause, the fact is that Draper is right about one thing: California has become practically ungovernable.

California is an unwieldy amalgamation. No other state contains within it such contradictory interests, cultures, economic and political geography. It has become impossible to even remotely reconcile the array of opposing forces. The only way to get anything done is to shove laws and regulations down a lot of unwilling throats. So, Draper is on to something.

The problem is not his analysis, but his prescription.

Ignoring the skeptics, Draper claims that that anything is possible and cites new technologies like the iPhone and Tesla as evidence. Of course, he ignores the fact that new technology is subject to fundamental scientific laws. And the first fundamental law of politics is that interests win out in the end. Breaking California is in the interest of 2 Senators and 53 Congress Members but against the interests of 98 Senators and 382 Members of Members. You don’t need to be a software engineer to figure out that math.

Where Draper has fallen off the beam is failing to apply the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking he used in venture capital to the problem of unwieldy government. What he is proposing is not just unworkable, it is simplistic and conventional. What’s so creative about just turning one state into six? Instead of tilting at that window, Draper could purse a workable solution: devolution of power. Concede that California will remain one state, but make it six (or more) virtual states.

There is nothing in the US Constitution that dictates how states must organized themselves politically. As long as citizens’ civil rights are protected and there exist a separation of powers, states have the option of organizing themselves politically. Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.

California could split into Draper’s regions and devolve powers to those regions. Powers of taxation, regulation and planning could be turned in part to each region (or even in whole). There already is precedent for governmental bodies that operate regionally. Water districts, transport planning and mass transit span county boundaries. Local and county governments have formed voluntary bodies that lobby for and market regions.

By regionalizing, as Draper proposes, California could each unique region to craft a tax and regulatory structure that fits its economy and culture. The state could surrender referendum power and end the current absurd one-size-fits-all system. Let the guns and pickups crowd have their guns and pickups. Let the coastal crowd have their organic bean sprouts and high speed rail. Regionalizing policy and power may not eliminate conflict, but it will reduce it. The essence of Draper’s proposal is workable; it just means California can’t have 12 Senators.

Of course, if Draper is serious about promoting his solution and chooses this more pragmatic road, he runs into another law of politics: people fight harder to keep what they have than they fight for future benefits. Every interest group happy with the current dysfunctional system will fight tooth and nail to keep things just the way they are. Plus, the state is full of busybodies who have made it their life’s mission to tell (or force) other people to live the way they want them to. Surrendering the power (or potential power) to do that will be intolerable to them.

In the end California will remain one state. But devolving power and creating several virtual states is a concept that can address the political problems correctly identified by Draper. Hopefully, Draper and his team will trade futility for practicality and work constructively to improve California.

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