High-profile backers are taking another shot at getting California to leave the Union (CalExit). While the tech company wealthy seem to be onboard, polls show that average Californians are not.
The State Attorney General, Xavier Becerra’s office has released an official title and summary for the initiative. It is now called the “California Autonomy from Federal Government” initiative. Promoters are now able to go out and gather signatures for their proposals. The proposal does not go as far as earlier attempts, but does seek to pull powers away from the Federal Government and assign them to the California Legislature. It also leaves open the possibility of a future ballot measure for “independence”.
The idea of taking powers from the larger Union is not a new concept. The UK consists of four separate nations who are all collectively known as the United Kingdom; each part has what is called “devolved powers”. These enable the countries (Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, but not England oddly enough) to set taxes, decide budgets and manage how policies are implemented…But there are problems.
Because these nations have devolved powers AND elections that decide “national government” (Hollyrood in Scotland, The Assembly in Wales, and Stormont in Northern Ireland), those in power are often caught in lies regarding where and why policies are enacted. During a recent (2014) Scottish Independence Referendum, Hollyrood blamed all the “ills of the world” on the Westminster Government (public service cuts, punitive taxation etc…) and appealed for more powers. The fact was that all of these areas were actually under control of Hollyrood themselves.
This is what would likely happen if California received extra powers without actually leaving the Union. Assuming it could even be done under the US Constitution which specifically reserves certain powers to the federal government. It is difficult to have two masters; the initial devolution of powers would be the thin end of the wedge, each electoral term would come with more requests for power. The US Constitution already includes a “separation of powers,” States’ Rights and limited, enumerated powers for the federal government.
The next step for the Calexit promoters is to try and gather 600,000 valid signatures within the next 180 days. If they can manage this, they will be able to get on the 2018 ballot.
The cost of this initiative is estimated to begin at around $1.25 million. Plus, “unknown, potentially major, fiscal effects if California voters approved changes to the state’s relationship with the United States at a future election after the approval of this measure.”
Two issues face the Calexit team. The first is ensuring that the signatures and the subsequent votes they may receive are actually legal citizens; it is unthinkable that non-citizens should have the right to decide on California’s future relationship as part of the USA. The second is more practical. California has a water issue that would involve bringing in supply from what will effectively be a “foreign nation”.
The irony here is that California has played a major role in the concentration of power at the federal level. While other states have routinely fought the federal government to retain their states’ rights, more liberal/progressive states like California have used the federal government to advance their ideology nationwide. Many states have even begun the process of an Article V “Convention of the States” to further limit federal powers. It seems that with the new political climate in Washington DC, California is now on board with reclaiming States’ Rights.
Mark is a political writer and journalist who has worked on campaigns for Brexit.