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Bruce Maiman: Six California states but one centralized power

“Red herring: something unimportant that is used to mislead or distract from the relevant or important issue.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Once again, we’re visited upon by a ballot proposal that may sound good when you say it fast, but when slowed down, it raises all sorts of questions.

Bay Area venture capitalist Tim Draper received formal approval last week to start collecting petitions for his initiative idea to split California into six separate states. He needs roughly 807,000 signatures by July 18 to make the ballot. Whether it be for 2014 or 2016, he tells Time magazine he hasn’t decided, but he speculates that if it happens in California, “New York will create three (states) and Texas will create five.”

Even if Californians approved such a proposal, our Legislature and both houses of Congress would have to give consent. You’d have more luck passing a law against the drought.

Draper’s six states:

•  Silicon Valley (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Monterey)

•  North California (Sacramento region to Marin and Sonoma)

•  South California (San Diego, Orange County, the Imperial Valley)

•  West California (Los Angeles and Santa Barbara)

•  Central California (Bakersfield, Fresno, and Stockton)

•  Jefferson (Redding and Eureka)

First of all, anyone who would name a state “Silicon Valley” suffers from an alarming lack of taste. Would the capital be Googleville, Facebookistan or Yahoo City?

A better name would be “Siliconia.” No, not for “Silicon Valley” but the area that includes Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

And why stop at six states? Why not 38 million Californias or 317 million Americas? Each person gets his or her own individual government. But just wait till one of those statelets declares Spanish as its official language.

Seriously, that “Drapartitioned” list of states suspiciously evokes the pernicious societal trend of a selfish unwillingness to get along with others in the cultural and economic bouillabaisse inherent in the DNA of California and the nation. Why can’t you be more like me?

Draper, like others before him, masquerades behind the time-worn excuse that California is ungovernable. No one says governing a state with 38 million people is easy. California is full of rivalries and squabbling. Even a popular attribute like our weather is full of diversity, from glaciers to deserts – even jungles if you count any number of freeways at rush hour.

Draper says his five-page plan will allow each state to both cooperate and compete with each other while giving greater representation to all Californians.

Really? Note, in his cartographical whims, where most of California’s capital is concentrated. In the so-called state of “Silicon Valley,” which conveniently includes San Francisco, the Federal Reserve Bank, federal offices and district courts. Draper’s plan, rather than foisting a competitive environment, actually further centralizes the western region’s – and perhaps his – financial clout and investment power.

That’s neither secession nor partition. It’s gerrymandering with state borders, an isolationist manifesto for the tech sector that Silicon Valley capitalists have probably fantasized about for years.

What Draper really sounds like he’s saying is that California is ungovernable for him, because he has to put up with the interests of them mountain folks around Shasta, those rednecks in Bakersfield and the brown people in the Imperial Valley.

Distracted by the siren song of failed political leadership, we hardly notice Draper’s passive-aggressive swipe at California’s less economically productive regions, several of which rely heavily on subsidies from Sacramento.

It further speaks to our co-opted petition initiative process. Hiram Johnson never could have envisioned his greatest accomplishment, direct democracy, being turned on its head as a tool largely for wealthy special interests, rather than a check against their influence with elected officials.

Anyone can fill out the paperwork for an initiative with the attorney general’s office, but it takes serious money to gather the signatures, something Draper has that you and I don’t. A decade ago, he spent $15 million of his own money trying to pass a school-voucher program in California.

Direct democracy, unfortunately, is just a little more direct for the people who can afford it.

Oh, but it’s inspiring how one wealthy person with a pet project likely doomed to failure can nonetheless move his idea far enough to get the state to spend money on vetting it, vetting the petitions and putting it on the ballot. What an excellent use of state funds in pursuit of a small-government agenda.

Basically, Draper’s idea is the grown-up version of when two siblings paint an imaginary line down the middle of the room to divide stuff up, only to have one of them learn he can’t get to the bathroom without crossing the line. That’s about when most kids realize just how silly their idea is. Others grow up to be self-entitled, self-important venture capitalists.