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The Daily Need

Splitting California in two

Most Californians will acknowledge (with some amusement) the informal, usually friendly antagonism that exists between the northern and southern halves of the state. Southern residents tend to scoff at northern cities like San Francisco and Berkeley, historically beacons of progressive politics, and northerners often cringe at the thought of the mostly conservative suburban sprawl of southern enclaves like La Jolla, Riverside and Orange County. In the midst of such vastly different cultures and political divides, jokes about splitting the state in two have always abounded.

Now, a Republican county official wants to make such a split happen.

Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone has proposed a plan for 13 southern California counties to secede from the rest of the state to form “South California,” a mostly inland area dominated by conservatives. Stone called California in its current state an “ungovernable” place suffering from economic mismanagement by Sacramento, with too much state spending on prisons and too lax a policy toward undocumented immigrants. Last week, Stone launched a website, CaliforniaRebellion2012.com, which outlines the movement’s many grievances against the way that California’s government has managed the state.

The proposed new state would encompass about 13 million residents, with the conspicuous exclusion of Los Angeles for having what Stone calls “the same liberal policies that Sacramento does.”

“South California,” as some have pointed out, is a slight misnomer given that the northernmost region of Mono County lies even farther north than San Francisco, though the majority of the counties included are within the southern half of the state. The more obvious division highlighted by Stone’s proposal, however, is between the coastal and inland areas, which contain cultural and political disparities all their own.

Secession is not a new premise for Californians: The New York Times notes that more than 200 secession proposals have been introduced in California in its 150-year history. In parts of northern California and southern Oregon, a World War II-era campaign to form a state called “Jefferson,” made up of 12 counties, was revived just three years ago.

Stone’s proposal, which was formally introduced to the Riverside Board of Supervisors last Tuesday, has been widely dismissed as a distraction and, according to one aide of California governor Jerry Brown, a “supremely ridiculous waste of everybody’s time.” Formal secession, which requires approval from the California state legislature as well as Congress in order to take effect, has been deemed by most observers as something unlikely to pass.

Despite these slim odds and the broad dismissal of Stone’s proposal as a political stunt, talk of secession within California does prompt a revisit to some of the more divisive political battles the state has endured in recent years. Although some 30 percent of California voters are registered as Republican, the state consistently votes along Democratic lines in presidential elections. And despite the liberalism that pervades more densely populated areas like San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, in 2008 the state still passed Proposition 8, the referendum banning gay marriage, which is still undergoing a stream of battles in court. So while “South California” may never become a reality, the dream of it for some may be a testament to Californians’ longstanding political frustrations and their inability to find any viable solution to their political divisiveness.

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