Some Californians dream of breaking away from the rest of the country
Jed Wheeler and Marcus Ruiz Evans can agree on one thing. They agree that things in California need to change.
They want to "Calexit," or have liberal California split from the rest of the United States.
"We can solve our own problems and don't need to wait on a government 3,000 miles away," Wheeler said. He echoed Evans' suggestion that California would be better off as its own country.
They sharply disagree, though, on the matter of how and when California should separate from the other 49 states.
New Political Party In The Making?
Evans is pushing a ballot measure that would put the question of secession, or separation, to voters in 2018. He believes the time has never been better to form a breakaway nation. Wheeler is working to create a pro-secession political party, looking a dozen or more years down the road when its candidates hold office. He fears that an early vote would undermine the effort.
At least four proposals are floating about to reshape the state in some fashion, including two that would split up California itself. None of the plans seems likely to succeed anytime soon, if ever.
Since 1849, when the gold rush hit California, there have been more than 200 efforts to split the state, pull it away from the union or change it in other drastic ways.
The Anti-Trump Initiative
The latest attempt was a ballot initiative that was sparked by anti-Donald Trump sentiments. This petition needs a certain number of signatures before it can be publicly voted on. So far, this one seems destined to fail before it makes it that far.
Supporters of the measure, led by Evans, have until July 25 to collect nearly 600,000 voter signatures. They can then place an independence measure before voters in November 2018. The group has yet to reach a quarter of that number, according to the California secretary of state's office. The group has also not reported raising any campaign contributions.
Evans, who is 40, is a former government affairs adviser now working full-time on the "Calexit" campaign. He insisted the signature-gathering process was engaging thousands of volunteers in 82 groups across the state. However, the exact number collected was unknown, he said, because of the loose structure of his pro-secession group, Yes California.
"Some are mailing them in. Some are holding them. Some are taking them directly to their county registrar of voters," he said. Asked to guess the odds of making the ballot, Evans responded, "Good. I won't say great."
It seems Evans and his pro-secession movement might have found an ally in Wheeler. Many principles of the very liberal California National Party echo those of Yes California. They believe the state needs to keep more of the money it sends to the national government in Washington, D.C. Like many liberals, they want California to be more open with its immigration laws and give more people access to health care.
The emerging party has taken no official position on the 2018 secession drive. But Wheeler believes "Calexit" would lose, damaging the independence movement. Better, he said, to elect sympathetic lawmakers under the National Party banner who could then work to bring about California's eventual departure.
Wheeler, age 36, is trying to be realistic. He says that while the idea of having a ballot initiative is appealing, he thinks not enough has been done to lay the groundwork for it to succeed.
Introducing Number 51: Jefferson
In California's far north, a determined group of dissenters has been laying that groundwork for many years. Since before World War II, they have been working to combine more than a dozen rural counties with a chunk of southern Oregon. Their goal is to form Jefferson, the nation's 51st state.
Their motivation is the same that drives other backers of secession. They believe that a far-off government is ignoring local sentiments while they feel outnumbered and outvoted by a population with different social and political views from their own.
"We really don't have fair representation," said Terry Rapoza, a 67-year-old leader of the Jefferson movement in Shasta County. He talked about the recent passage of a 10-year, $52 billion road repair and transportation bill. The increase in gas taxes, he said, will have much less effect in California cities than in rural stretches. In rural areas, people might drive 20 miles just to get to the grocery store.
But he has little use for secession, which strikes him as useless toward ending the divide between cities and rural areas in the state. There is something wrong and even vaguely un-American, he suggested, about trying to break the country apart. "We want to add a star to the flag," Rapoza said. "Not take one off."