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Two Californias -- twice as much fun, half as many Democrats (and Republicans)?

July 12, 2011 |  9:57 pm

Think of Don Quixote, but with a suntan -– and a map instead of a lance.

Even before there was a California, Californians have wanted to divvy up the state. Too big. Too heterogeneous. Hispanic southern California mismatched with Gold Rush northern California. Coastal wedded to inland, wet northern California mated to dry southern California.

The latest state-splitting dreamer is Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, who wants a statewide summit to bring this matter and many other operational questions to local officials, and maybe, ultimately, create a 51st state out of the Golden State.

The two-state map suggested by the Republican Stone would carve out of every southern California county except LA County, and then snip north-ish, raggedly up the middle of the state, to include counties bordering Arizona and Nevada, and reaching almost as far north as the inland "bend’’ of California. You can read my colleague Phil Willon’s story about it here.

This is a rare vertical configuration; most of the slice-up-the-California-baby proposals have argued for a horizontal split -– as long ago as 1849, when one proposal to the state constitutional convention involved drawing a line from San Luis Obispo due east, creating a state to the north and a territory to the south.

The Stone state, not unlike the vertical line of the San Andreas Fault, would mirror the state’s political divisions more accurately than a northern-southern divide. This is deliberate, Stone says, because Los Angeles has "the same liberal policies that Sacramento does.’’

You could practically hear the snort from Gov. Jerry Brown’s spokesman, Gil Duran, who told the Press-Enterprise, "A secessionist movement? What is this, 1860?"

As late as 1941, some people in extreme northern California and southern Oregon were agitating to become the state of Jefferson; they’d even elected a governor, and celebrated with a big parade in Yreka –- three days before Pearl Harbor put paid to that notion

Lest we forget, the other 49 states might have something to say about this too.

Historically, the prospect of multiple Californias raised a ruckus during the ferocious political slavery struggles before the Civil War, when a compromise declared California would be a free state -– but only one state. Divide California, and the new state head count could tip the nation toward abolition.

Here is a scholarly history of state-splitting from 98 years ago.

(Jon Winokur’s nifty blue-and-gold  book, "The War Between the State: Northern California versus Southern California,’’ is full of Californians’ observations about the differences between us. It includes, as I recall, one of mine, to the effect that San Francisco is where you go to get engaged –- and L.A. is where you go to write the prenup. The rivalry is ancient but, for some time now, I think San Francisco has been left behind; L.A. has pitched its rivalry with New York, except on the baseball diamond.)

Nearly 20 years ago, another Quixote, this one a former Republican state Assembly member and broadcaster named Stan Statham, nicknamed "Three-State Stan,’’ revived the cut-it-up argument, first in favor of two states, and then three.

It went nowhere, but it did inspire a contest with an inspired outcome. On the Emmy-winning "Life & Times’’ public affairs program on KCET, which I co-hosted, we asked viewers, if California were indeed divided, like Gaul, into three parts, what should the states be named?

I thought that two states, northern and southern California, might aptly be named Silicon and Silicone.

But three states? I was stumped. Here, from viewers’ suggestions, were my favorites:

North to south: Log-Land, Fog-Land and Smog-Land.

South to north: Id, Ego and Superego.

Supervisor Stone says he supports intrastate secession in part because state government is too dysfunctional to fix. To which I must ask, then isn’t it also too dysfunctional even to be able to split itself in twain?


Ted Rall cartoon: Greetings from Republican utopia 'South California'

Reader poll: Is 'South California' the only escape from Sacramento's sweeping failure?

-- Patt Morrison

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