Draper’s Fateful Anti-Democratic Error

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I still like the idea of hijacking Tim Draper’s ballot initiative campaign for 6 Californias (since it has not chance of winning) and using it to have a conversation about the importance of devolving government power from Sacramento the regions. I argued that previously here.

But re-reading the initiative after signatures were turned in made me realize again just how imperfect a vehicle the Draper initiative is for the kind of conversation Californians need to have about the size and organization of our state.

One enormous error – a political, strategic and cultural mistake of Bill Bucknerian proportions – also jumped out at me: why on earth didn’t Draper allow the six new states of California to name themselves?

One would think that one advantage of creating a new state would be the right to name it. But Draper takes that privilege for himself. And he does a terrible job of naming in the process.

Jefferson, for the far north counties, might make sense, since that has been a preferred name for separatists up that way for more than a half century. But his other names – North California (for counties around Sacramento); West California for LA and coastal counties north of it; Central California for San Joaquin and some Sierra counties; and South California, for the mega-state he would create out of San Diego, OC and the Inland Empire – are boring and uninspired.

His biggest mistake is the name he gives to his own home state: Silicon Valley (for the Bay Area counties, plus Santa Cruz and Monterey). Given the complicated relationship between people and technology there, that name could be divisive in the region. Given the high collective self-esteem of the Bay Area, something like Shangri-La would be more appropriate.

But the smarter thing to do would have been to let the states name themselves. This also would have been the traditional path, as new cities in the state get to name themselves.

When the San Fernando Valley tried to split off from the rest of Los Angeles more than a decade ago, people there even got to vote on 5 possible names. One of the choices on the ballot was – I am not making this up – Camelot.

It would have been good for Draper to fix this mistake and remove the names. But this is California. Since Draper has already filed his signatures, he can’t make any corrections.

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