The end of December and early January is usually a down time in the co-dependent businesses of government and news, replete with vacation breaks for many. This can often net flaky ideas and words far more coverage than they deserve.
So it was when ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called state legislators a bunch of “girlie men,” early in his term, only to have those same folks later best him at every turn, and when ex-Gov. Gray Davis first suggested the same lawmakers exist to “implement my vision.”
It’s that way again these days, but current Gov. Jerry Brown is savvier and more tight-lipped than his immediate predecessors, so the newest laughable ideas come from rich folks who apparently have too much time and money on their hands.
First out of the gate early in the Christmas season was John Cox, a San Diego County real estate investor who doesn’t like current California legislators. He realizes he can’t entirely rid the state of elected lawmakers, so instead, he proposes flooding the state with them.
Cox is just now starting to circulate an initiative to expand the Legislature from its current 120 members (80 in the Assembly, 40 in the state Senate) to 12,000, each with a district of 5,000 to 10,000 residents. Imagine being a member of the decennial Citizens Redistricting Commission and having to draw boundaries for all those districts, many encompassing little more than a neighborhood or a large apartment complex.
Oh, Cox realizes that elected bodies of 8,000 (Assembly) and 4,000 (Senate) people would be just a tad unwieldy. So he’d only actually send to Sacramento one out of each 100 of those elected. What do you know? That yields two chambers precisely the same size as today’s. Except their work product would be subject not only to vetos by the governor, but also by the larger bodies they’d represent.
Cox thinks this might take the money out of politics, forcing candidates to go door to door in their tiny districts, rather than flooding airwaves and mailboxes with advertising. Actual, working Sacramento lawmakers each would really have just 100 constituents for pleasing and pandering to.
Don’t expect this one to go very far once it becomes apparent to voters they wouldn’t even be changing the number of people in Sacramento, but would add a whole new layer of government.
Equally unlikely is the new pipe dream of technology investor Tim Draper, a billionaire venture capitalist who helped found such outfits as Skype and Hotmail, since acquired for huge amounts by others. Draper is the latest who wants to break up California, only he wants it divided not into two new states, but six, one including essentially the Silicon Valley and little more. That would actually be the name of one of his new entities.
Draper would grant the wish of far Northern California and Southern Oregon activists who want to carve a new state called Jefferson out of a few mostly rural counties so they’d no longer be subjected to the wishes of their urban fellow Californians. His other four states: South California, North California, Central California and Coastal California, all of which would produce more Californias than today’s combined total of Dakotas and Carolinas.
The idea is not quite as far-fetched as what Balaji Srinivasan, co-founder of the San Francisco genetics company Counsyl called for last fall, when he suggested Silicon Valley should leave not just California, but the entire United States. Draper’s notion has about as much prospect of becoming real as Srinivasan’s: None in the foreseeable future.
Making six new states out of one would give the current California 12 United States senators, not a prospect that would sit well with other states who already resent the 53 members of Congress this state’s big population produces.
Congress, of course, would have to approve creation of any new state, no matter what voters or legislators here might say. Members from other states have worked for years to deprive California of influence. That’s one reason this state now gets back only about 77 cents in federal spending for every dollar its citizens pay in federal taxes.
All of which makes the two new ideas fun to consider, but nothing to take seriously.
Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at [email protected]