Opinion Editorial

California dreaming... of secession

POSTMEDIA NETWORK

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A lot of Californians are mad as hell. Some even say they're not going to take it anymore.

"It" is the result of November's presidential election. What these Californians are doing is organizing a secessionist movement -- as in, taking California out of the United States.

Their movement is called Calexit, as in Brexit. Their inspiration is the growing gulf that separates them -- politically, culturally, demographically -- from the rest of the union.

Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump by a two-to-one margin here. "Without California, Trump would have won the popular vote," tweeted conservative pundit and Trump critic David Frum.

The Golden State has a population of 39 million people, more than any other state in the union, and more people than in all of Canada. Metro Los Angeles alone is home to close to 19 million, a total greater than Ontario and Alberta combined.

As Frum points out, those are numbers that come with economic clout, and therein lies the rub for many Californians.

The U.S. without California, he writes, would be the world's second-ranked technology power instead of the first. It's home to Silicon Valley and companies such as Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Oracle, and SpaceX.

California boasts the world's sixth largest economy, greater than France, Italy, South Korea and India.

California is also culturally distinct from much of the rest of the U.S. It's synonymous with liberal causes, from environmental protection to gun control to health care, and that has other Americans judging Californians, and not in a flattering way.

It's a reality not lost on Marcus Ruiz Evans, one of the movers and shakers behind Calexit. "California," he admitted to the Washington Post, "(is) seen as weird."

That weirdness extends to politics beyond the presidential variety. Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to ensure Californians have health insurance coverage, offered through the state-run health exchange called Covered California, even if Trump Republicans repeal ObamaCare.

But where the state most hears a different drummer is on immigration. Californians are decidedly in favour of it, and it's easy to see why.

California has the largest immigrant population in the union, approximately 10 million in total, a quarter of those undocumented. If you're not an immigrant in California, you know one. Or two. Or more.

In response to Trump's ambitions to engage in large-scale deportation of illegal immigrants, the state legislature is considering a bill that would declare the state a "sanctuary."

Lawmakers have even hired former Obama attorney general Eric Holder to battle the Trump administration on the issue. That step earned the enmity of the new president.

"Trump claims California is 'out of control,' " writes columnist George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times, though the irony is undoubtedly lost on the president.

Trump has threatened to cut off federal funds to California. "We'll defund," Trump told Fox News. "We give tremendous amounts of money to California."

The problem is that, like residents of Canada's "have" provinces, Californians contribute more money to the federal treasury than what comes back.

There has been much grousing about the Trump administration ever since the threats were levelled, fertile ground for Calexit.

The secessionists even have the support of Silicon Valley billionaires Peter Thiel and Shervin Pishevar.

Companies like Google have expressed concern about their ability in an ­anti-immigrant climate to recruit foreigners for jobs not enough Americans are qualified to fill.

In January, the group Yes California was given permission to circulate a petition with the intention of putting the sovereignty question on the 2018 ballot. If the petition is successful -- close to 600,000 signatures are required -- a special vote to decide the state's future would follow in 2019.

Calexit does have its skeptics. "Canadians know you don't escape the shadow of your giant neighbour by drawing a border," wrote Prof. Timothy William Waters in the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he believes secession is a bad idea.

Such opinions are far from universal. According to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll taken in California, one-third of respondents support "peaceful withdrawal from the union."

As one tweeter wrote: "We'll just take our avocados and legal weed and go."

Terry McConnell is a former Edmonton Journal columnist, editorial writer and copy editor now living in California