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Could Splitsville be the answer?
Posted at: Mar/28/2018 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: Politics & Gov, Watching America,
With the election of Donald Trump, the divides in America became ever more apparent. In response to the presidential election of 2016 one group in California circulated a petition supporting the state’s secession from the U.S. While movements like this are hard to take seriously, there are clear divisions in America. In recent decades, the political differences between rural areas and metropolitan areas seem to have become more severe. This has caused political splits in certain states, where, often, those rural areas, with lower populations, feel stifled by their city brethren making intra-state secession or splitting a growing topic.
One hundred and fifty years ago our country split apart over the growing differences between the states. Southern states were economically dependent on slave labor to bring their products to market at low prices. The Northern states did not allow slavery, but they definitely enjoyed the benefits of low cost goods from Southern states, in particular cotton. As new states entered the union, their status as a slave or non-slave state became critical to the balance of power in Congress. Ultimately, the issue of federal authority v states’ rights boiled over and more than 660,000 lives were lost in a civil war.
Part of what made the civil war of the 1860’s possible was that the political divisions did truly fall along geographic lines. States in the north fought to keep the Union together, states in the south fought for secession to control their economic destiny.
The current issues that divide America are not so easy to identify on the map. In California, the conservative interior counties feel they are having policies imposed on them by the coastal cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles that they do not agree with. A $15/hour minimum wage in San Francisco makes sense. In Bakersfield or Fresno, where the cost of living is much lower $15/hour is nearly enough to buy a home: clearly not practical as a minimum wage.
As Joel Kotkin of Chapman University in Orange California put it: “The worst thing in the world is to be the red part of a blue state.” Kotkin goes on to explain that the liberal policies imposed from Sacramento are “fundamentally authoritarian” with “not a lot of tolerance for any kind of economic or political diversity.” There is a clear imposition from state government that “we know the truth, we know what’s right, and it has to apply to everyone.”
The response has been a growing interest in the secession movement in California. The current proposal sponsored by the New California Movement seeks to create two California’s where there was one. The coastal counties containing San Francisco to Los Angeles would remain as California. The remaining 35 counties, both coastal and interior would become New California. This notion is not new. By California’s sheer size, diversity of economies and population, it has been difficult for a single state government to effectively serve everyone. Movements to divide California have been popping up periodically since the summer of 1941.
This challenge is not unique to California. The citizens of eastern Oregon are battling the policies imposed on them by the population centered in Portland. Eastern Washington is at odds with Seattle and downstate Illinois is continuously battling the policies dominated by Chicago politicians. There is a red versus blue battle under way in New York to split the upstate from the downstate. As Republican state senator Joseph Robach puts it, “We’re completely overwhelmed...by the policies of New York City.” In 2009 and 2011 he introduced bills to hold a referendum on secession. And in 2015 there was a rally in favor of carving out a new state, supported by more than a dozen groups frustrated by the policies of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The division facing these states are not just economic, but often traditional versus progressive on issues of the day including gun control, marijuana, sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants and the environment.
It is important to note that the New California proposed split would create two states that would still be more populous than many others across the country with diverse economies across each.
There is actually a documented process for creating a new state or splitting an existing one. Article IV, section 3 of the Constitution allows for new states to be admitted into the union, though no new state can be formed within an old state without the consent of the state legislature as well as Congress. That’s a pretty high hurdle, but not insurmountable. As mentioned, in the pre-Civil War era, the admission of new states came with substantial political debate. Would the new state be a slave state or non-slave state were important questions of the day? The political power of regional groups of states rested in the balance.
In the 1860’s taxes were nominal, but they are a driving force in modern politics. If a modern state were to split, the legacy state would lose a substantial portion of the tax revenue that supported specific agenda items. If California were to split now, the New California would control most of the water and water access projects needed to sustain the heavily populated coastal areas of the California. From a political perspective, approving the splitting of a state would have major repercussions on the balance of power in Washington D.C. Whether Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois or New York, splitting would change the balance of power in the Senate. Where each of the aforementioned states currently sends two liberal Senators, the new states would likely be each sending two conservative Senators countering the two liberals of the legacy state. With the House of Representatives staffed by population, it is difficult to say if adding new states would have any serious impact on the distribution of vote from one side of the aisle to the other.
Splitting states to create new ones has been done before, but long ago. For example, Vermont split from New York in 1791, Maine split from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War in 1863. There haven’t been any states formed by secession in modern U.S. history.
Clearly, Americans seem to have gotten used to the idea of 50 states, with Hawaii the last admitted to the Union in 1959. For most of the country’s history we added a new state every couple of decades, but now we act as if 50, the nice round number that it is, is set in stone. There’s a plausible argument that we would be better off with more states. There is no doubt that in our current government structure, additional states would be more representative.
Part of being a politician in our modern era is the ego to be in control and wield power over a larger and larger group. For that reason alone, it is unlikely that state leaders would willing give up power approving a succession movement. If you’re a politician in a big state like California, you have likely spent a lot of time trying to fight your way to the top. In a big and heavily populated state, the top is a big climb and a lot of other people are trying to get there. If the state were to split, it becomes a small mountain that is more easily conquered.
More important than forming new states, however is understanding what the disputes are that lead to a desire for secession. Part of the problem, goes back to the Supreme Court case “Reynolds v. Sims” (1964), which declared state legislatures (as opposed to the U.S. Senate) have to be apportioned according to population, not geographical area. Under the old system, rural areas got more representation, and under the new system they get much less. This has helped lead to the present-day situation where rural areas feel underserved and at the mercy of policies from the big city being imposed on them.
Secession to create a new state is a pretty drastic path, but currently those who live in rural communities feel under represented. There may be a legal option leveraging the Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” The Guarantee Clause has been used to get protections for minorities across the country. Maybe citizens in our rural communities should be considered a minority who are underrepresented? Most federal laws are written to leave states the power to make stricter regulations based on supporting their unique population. If state regulations and laws fall disproportionately on a minority in a state that has no real political power or voice, then it may be time for the courts or federal authorities to step in with new protections. As extreme as this sounds, it may be less painful then having a state split into two.
In our civil war of the 1860, it was easy to decide which side you were on, the large plantation economy of the south, or the big cities and industry of the north: the secessionist, or preserving the Union. America is as divide now on major political issues as anytime in our history. Unfortunately, we are without a “Mason-Dixon Line” carving our major geographical areas and then aligning with distinct local views. The new divide is between America’s largest cities and the surrounding rural communities. Without a better representation scheme, the wealth, social challenge and population of the big cities are imposing policies on these small towns that they had no voice in crafting and do not feel any alignment or participation with. It is bad enough to have laws and regulations imposed on you that you disagree with, still worse if you had no voice in their crafting. America is supposed to be a place where everyone feels their voice is heard and represented. If we cannot find a way to better way to represent all the voices in a state, ultimately splitting may be the only viable solution.