If the cry “Freedom!” makes you think of Mel Gibson in blue-and-white face paint, then you know where we’re going with this editorial. That’s right, ye aulde Central Valley – by way of the low road, naturally.
The people of Scotland are voting today on whether they will remain part of the United Kingdom or, after 400 years, have the freedom to wear their kilts in peace and pride. This political battle has nothing to do with us. But it does more or less coincide with the end of a bid for “freedom” to break California into six states, since the secretary of state’s office ruled that roughly 40 percent of the 1.4 million petition signatures gathered by millionaire Tim Draper were invalid.
That failure leaves us disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity for a serious conversation about what it means to be a single state. Why have such a conversation? Because California, at least as we here in the Central Valley know it, isn’t a single state – it’s at least two, largely recognizable by a great divide separating the haves and have-nots. And far too many of our residents fall into the latter category.
If the Central Valley had become its own state, as envisioned in Draper’s six-state scheme, here are some of the things we would have had:
• Fifteen of the state’s 34 prison facilities (not counting the federal penitentiary in Atwater).
• Four of the state’s 33 university campuses – three CSUs and one UC, and not one medical school.
• Poverty. If we had become a state, one analyst said we’d have ranked second in poverty between Mississippi and New Mexico. On the coast – in that “other” California – median incomes are 56 percent higher than they are here. Throw in the hidden poverty in labor camps filled with undocumented immigrants, and you begin to understand why Congress once described us as the “Appalachia of the West.”
• Water. At the northern end of our region sits the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Our rivers are our lifeblood, which is why we’ve invested heavily to make the most of them.
Bluntly put, we think we get a raw deal. The only time anyone from the coast – north or south – pays attention to us is when they’re on their way to Yosemite or looking for fresh produce or a cheap glass of wine.
We are California’s fly-over territory. Yet we grow their food, send them water, tend their dumps and provide low-cost workers for major cities. In the meantime our roads are crowded and chock-full of potholes; we are choked by regulations and bad air. We have fewer state parks and fewer state facilities overall – except for those prisons.
There is little chance we would have endorsed a division of the state, but threatening to vote our way out might make Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento take notice just as those in London belatedly noticed the unhappiness in Glasgow and began to sweeten the pot with more benefits and autonomy.
We wish the folks in Scotland well on whatever road they choose. They’re lucky to have gotten a say.