- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2018

Cutting Texas down to size is always a good thing to do, and if we have to carve up California to do it, well, that’s life. The current popular notion in California would divide the Golden State into three new states, something that could be no longer be called Golden but perhaps Plastic, Pewter and Brass.

This is all very fanciful, as many things are in California, but Californians will vote in November whether to split in three. Some Californians, first among them Tim Draper, a billionaire high-tech venture capitalist, thinks it’s a bully idea. If the referendum passes, unlikely as that may be, it likely would come to naught, anyway. But it gives Californians something to talk about this summer at pool side.

There’s precedent for it, sort of. West Virginia was carved out of Virginia when the northwestern counties didn’t want to go to war against the union in 1861, and President Lincoln, always eager to cut corners, obliged. The new state of West Virginia did, however, contribute native son Stonewall Jackson to the Confederacy, and the rebels rarely lost a battle until he was shot by ghastly mistake by one of his pickets at Chancellorsville.

By the terms of the referendum, there would be a state in Northern California, with San Francisco as the capital, (the Plastic State, some might say); a state down south with a capital in Los Angeles (the Brass State) and a state encompassing the rich and fertile San Joaquin Valley, which would be colloquially known as the Pewter State, for its rustic rural lights, with the capital in untypical San Diego.

This would divide California’s 55 electoral votes, and splitting up the state makes some Republican eyes light up with anticipation. George Bush the Elder was the last Republican president to win those 55 votes. But Ryan Byrne, an analyst at Ballotpedia who crunched a lot of data, says not so fast. The three new states with congressional districts as established by the 2010 U.S. Census would have earned 59 electoral votes, not 55.

“All three [new states] would have voted for Democratic presidential candidates the past three presidential elections.” Southern California (San Diego) has been much more competitive. Current data suggests that the number of registered Democrats would outnumber registered Republicans in all three new states, but only by 200,000 votes in Southern California. Barack Obama would have carried all three of the new states, but Southern California by only six-tenths of a percentage point.

The carve-up would just about guarantee four new Democratic senators and maybe six instead of the current two.

However, some Democrats are leery of splitting up the 55 votes that make California the elephant in the room. This would make Texas what it already thinks it is, the biggest and most important state by the numbers. Texans are still feeling hurt that Alaska replaced it as the biggest-sized state.

The idea of altering California is something of a pipe dream, but with a billionaire willing to throw so much money at a dream, others have to take it semi-seriously. Congress might not agree, and neither might the courts. This is all uncharted country, and who knows where the trails might lead, probably to unexpected places.

Texas, which was once the Republic of Texas, claims that under the terms of its admission to the union in 1846, it can if it ever wishes divide itself not into three, but five. California was once a republic, too, and there’s also a movement afoot to secede. The South tried that once, taking 11 states into the Confederacy, and even with God, the gallant Robert E. Lee and the fierce Stonewall Jackson on its side, never was quite able defend its independence.

Could a modern president — Pocahontas, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, or even Maxine Waters, the queen of the impeachment movement — summon the courage and wit to send an expeditionary army to put down the attempt to re-establish the California Republic? Lincoln put down what he called an insurrection, and all he got for it was an assassin’s bullet, a big-box memorial and his picture on a dollar bill.

If the California carve-up succeeds, would Florida, the third largest state by population, be far behind? North and South Florida are dramatically different by culture and tradition. Some New Yorkers imagine they deserve to be a city state. Tennessee is already divided by custom and tradition into West Tennessee (Memphis), Middle Tennessee (Nashville) and East Tennessee (Knoxville), so why not make it official? We might one day have more stars on the flag than there are in either heaven or on Alabama, which would require erasing the stripes to make room. Another Civil War without all that trouble might be on the way, anyway.

• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.

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