Calexit?

The 2016 election was a major victory for the Republican party. Their nominee Donald Trump defied the odds and garnered more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, beating her 306 to 232. They also came up big in House and Senate races, currently holding 51 seats in the Senate and another 240 in the House compared to the Democrat’s 48 and 194, respectively. Moreover, Republicans also now control both houses of legislature in 32 different states and the governorship in 31 states, giving the GOP a “trifecta” in 25 states. The Democrats, on the other hand, control 18 governorship and have a trifecta in just five states.

One of these five states is the liberal Mecca of California. Following Democrat Josh Newman’s victory over Republican Ling Ling Chang in California’s 29th Senate District race, the Democratic party now has two-thirds “supermajorities” in both house of legislature as well as control of the governorship. As Bruce E. Cain, a professor of political science at Stanford University, stated, “the supermajority achievement underscores the obvious: the Republicans are pretty much irrelevant to the policy-making process in Sacramento.”

Governor Jerry Brown reinforced this idea when he released a strong rebuke of Trump’s victory saying that while California “will do our part to find common ground whenever possible”, they “will protect the precious rights of our people”. The leadership of California’s state legislature also released a joint statement denouncing the decisive rhetoric that Trump based his campaign on, making it clear that the state will remain “a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love”.

One of the main points of disagreement between California and President-elect Trump is climate change. Whereas the majority of Californians see it as a “very serious problem”, Trump has previously denounced climate change as a hoax manufactured by China–much like his clothing line. He has also filled his cabinet picks almost exclusively with climate change deniers, clearly showing the world that his administration will not focus on what the Pentagon calls an “urgent and growing threat to our national security”. While California is still in the throes of the worst drought in their recorded history, the state government has made it clear that they will continue their mission to curb climate change despite opposition from Republican-held Capitol Hill and White House.

This election, the state voted overwhelming for Hillary Clinton (61.5 percent of the vote) and also passed various progressive measures such as legalizing marijuana for recreational use, banning single-use plastic bags, extending the 13.3 percent tax rate on the richest residents, and restricting ammunition sales. But many Californians see Trump’s presidency as a potential existential risk and fear that his administration will nullify the progressive values championed by the Golden State. The dichotomy between the state and the rest of the country has fostered strong feelings of disillusionment as well as defiance–even spurring talks of Californian secession among some groups.

Just two weeks ago, Yes California Independence Campaign, a political action committee, took a step in this direction by officially filling a ballot measure with the Attorney General’s office. The measure would clear a path for secession by removing language from the state constitution which claims California as “an inseparable part of the United States of America” and that “the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land”. If the group manages to garner half a million signatures, the measure will appear on the 2018 ballot. If passed, Californians will vote to become an independent nation in a state-wide election occurring in March of 2019.

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Marcus Ruiz Evans, vice president of Yes California, recognizes that Californian secession is a herculean task that will not be accomplished overnight, but hopes that their proposed ballot measure will “show there are a lot of people who are interested in this [and] that a bigger fish will either support us or take the movement all the way to the end”.

But exactly how well would an independent California fare on the international stage? The newly created nation-state would arguably have high potential for success without having to worry about the dead weight that is most of the United States. After all, data compiled by Wallet Hub in March ranked California as the fourth least dependent state on federal money. The state is relatively self-sufficient and is relatively resource rich–aside from the whole drought thing.

If anything, the rest of the country would suffer if California were to leave, as the state provides the country with two-thirds of its fruits, vegetables, and nuts as well as 20 percent of its milk. California is also home to Disney Land, Universal Studios, Hollywood and their movies, Yosemite and its beauty, beaches saturated with people and/or trash, quickly fluctuating weather that is otherwise bearable, earthquakes, and highways more clogged than the average American’s arteries, among other things. California is also home to everyone here at In Loco Politico–so as our readers can clearly see, the United States has the most to lose from this break up.

Despite criticisms of the state’s high taxes and business regulations, California’s economy is doing impressively well. Its gross state product (GSP–the state equivalent of gross domestic product) grew by 4.2% in 2015 to $2.448 trillion–a little larger than Brazil’s $2.246 trillion–which would make it the world’s sixth largest economy if it were a separate nation. The California economy is projected to grow 3.4 percent in the next year, twice the projected growth rate of the entire European Union. According to the 2016-2017 California State Budget Economic Outlook, the state’s unemployment rate is also projected to decrease in the next year while the civilian workforce is projected grow. In 2015, the state’s employment rate outpaced the United States’ 2.8 percent to 1.9 percent.

High-paying professional services jobs, such as “engineers, architects, lawyers, accountants and consultants”, account for thirty percent of this growth. This industry has grown an impressive 17 percent compared to the 8 percent average by all other professions since the 2008 Recession. The average weekly pay in 2015 for the sector was roughly $1,900 –and rising. These jobs are also less prone to outsourcing–unlike blue-collar positions–and also bring in money from outside into the local communities they are based in.

 

The Californian economy would face some major hurdles in their future, however. For one, the cost of living in California is $77,497 for a family of five (two adults working full-time and three children). Though this isn’t significantly more than the American average cost of living for the same family size, $71,440, both parents would have to make at least $18.63 an hour–nearly twice as much as the current minimum wage of $10. While California’s minimum wage is slated to gradually increase to $15 an hour by 2021, the cost of living in the state is also expected to grow accordingly.

The state’s high taxes coupled with Trump’s campaign promise to lower the corporate tax rate has also led some to anticipate an exodus of businesses and wealthy people to states with lower taxes–particularly neighboring Nevada, which has no corporate income tax. Trump has also promised to cut federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities in the state that refuse to comply with his immigration policies, though city and state authorities are already drawing up contingency plans if this were to happen.

Though California has some of the most prestigious public and private research universities, the state faces a massive teacher shortage at the grade school level. In 2016, 75% of school districts in the state–particularly those in large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco–reported shortages starting the school year. Due to the high cost of living and other factors, California’s teachers have a high turnover rate–one that is only getting worse according to research conducted by the California School Boards Association and the Learning Policy Institute, an education research nonprofit.

Perhaps the biggest problem that the new Republic of California would face is the public pension crisis that is looming in the not-too-distant future. California’s pension system was once a model for the rest of the nation, but many believe that it has since become too overburdened with its prior obligations. The current deficit of state’s pension fund for its public workers plus health care obligations to retirees is officially over $200 billion, but the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research warned state officials that they had greatly underestimated the amount by as much as $1 trillion.

To try to mitigate this issue, the California state legislature passed the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 which cut pensions, raised retirement ages for new employees, and imposed tougher standards for existing workers to prevent them from getting more than what they deserve. This would allow California to greatly reduce its debts to future and current employees.

Though a union of public employees sued Marin County, which based their retirement program on this new law, the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in August that “While a public employee does have a ‘vested right’ to a pension, that right is only to a ‘reasonable’ pension — not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating a pension”. On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court agreed to review the Appellate Courts’ ruling, so it is unlikely that this issue will be resolved soon. 

Regardless of the benefits or drawbacks, California secession will not come as easily as passing a ballot measure. Even if it were to pass, California would have to introduce a Constitutional amendment that would allow the state to leave the Union. This, however, is also not an easy task as it would require the approval of either two-thirds of both houses of Congress or three-quarters of the states. The only alternative, therefore, is violent revolution.

As shown by the American Civil War, the US government doesn’t take too kindly to states violently seceding from the Union. There is also constitutional precedent against state secession that was established by the Supreme Court in the 1869 case Texas v. White, where the court decided five to three that the Constitution did not give state’s the right to secede from the country. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote in the majority opinion that

When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final.

If successful, the Republic of California would likely face economic and perhaps military hardships immediately after their secession from the country. They would no longer benefit from the military protection of the United States and be prone to invasion by a foreign power–likely Russia or China–but we’ll save the geopolitics of this scenario for some other time, however. They might lack legitimacy and recognition by the international community–arguably based on the condition of the mainland US during that time. They would be left alone to rebuild their crumbling infrastructure and transportation systems. Their products would potentially be subject high trade tariffs. The country itself might even face economic sanctions from the United States to get them to bow, much like they tried with Cuba. The US government could also somehow block the flow of fresh water from the Colorado River, therefore the drought-stricken nation-state.

The relationship between the United States and California is simply too symbiotic for secession to likely happen. There’s too much industry, agriculture, and resources in the state for the United States to allow them to leave peacefully or otherwise. California is also home to dozens of military installations vital to the US operations on the Pacific, including the Central Coast’s very own Vandenberg Air Force Base. HOWEVER–though a California or West Coast secession from the United States is unlikely, I wouldn’t call it impossible. 2016 has really thrown all rhyme and reason out the window, leaving no real expectations for 2017 and, arguably, the rest of this decade. 

I, for one, want the state to remain part of the country–for better or for worse–and to serve as a bastion of liberal, progressive values in an increasingly conservative America. By seceding from the Union, we effectively give up on the quarter millennia-old socioeconomic experiment known at the United States of America. Let’s break the stereotype that Californians are a buncha pot-smoking, tree-hugging, un-American pinko commies and fight like hell for the soul of this country of ours–America the great. We simply cannot bail out while the rest of our country burns like Rome–we must fight the good fight against Donald Trump and his regressive cronies. For California. For America. For the World.

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