One Ballot Initiative, Six Times the Fun

Jessica Levinson
Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and President of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

California is huge. I do not necessarily mean that as a compliment.

California is the nation’s most populous state. More than thirty-eight million people live in the Golden State. That is roughly twelve percent of the nation’s population. Add up the populations in about twenty-one of American’s least populous states and that will still not equal the number of people who live in California.

How many people represent these thirty-eight million people in the state legislature? One hundred and twenty. If that doesn’t seem like much, it is because it isn’t. California has the largest state legislative districts in the country. There are eighty State Assembly Districts (which each hold more than 466,000 residents) and forty State Senate Districts (which each hold more than 931,000 residents).

Want to get cozier with your state senator? You could move to Montana, Vermont, or Wyoming where around 20,000 people live in each state senate district.

But is smaller better? Tim Draper, a venture capitalist who is the proponent of yet another ballot initiative that would divide the state into smaller states, thinks so. The proposed measure is called “Six Californias,” and thanks to our loony tunes-inspired initiative process, it may be coming to a ballot box near you in November of 2016.

Unfortunately this proposal offers us a healthy dose of fervor with only a small side of details. In addition to creating smaller legislative districts, little things like the educational, judicial and penal systems would somehow have to be sorted out. Each of the new mini-Californias (shall we call them “California-ettes?”) would also need that pesky things we call water and energy.

There is also the matter of the proposed divisions being grossly unequal, and likely hugely disadvantageous to many. The new mini-California that would be called “Silicon Valley” would be the wealthiest in the nation, while the California-ette that would be termed the “Central California,” would likely be the poorest state in the nation. (As a side note, Tim Draper lives in “Silicon Valley.”)

The good news is that even if this proposed measure both makes it to the ballot and passes, the United States Congress would have to signal its approval before we start creating little California-ettes. Given the inability of Congress to tie its own shoes, this all seems highly unlikely.

California is a big state with big, grownup problems. We should think seriously about things like whether it makes sense to increase the number of state representatives in California. The fact that people feel disconnected from their state legislators (to the extent they even know who their legislators are) is no surprise. When constituents and voters feel disengaged, legislators can become less accountable and responsive. This begins a downward cycle that helps to explain why only one in four registered voters in California bothered to show up to the polls in the June 2014 primaries.

While the Golden State is far from perfect, the answer is not to chop it up, at least not like this.

Jessica A. Levinson is an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where she teaches election law, money, politics and the Supreme Court, and the campaign finance seminar. She is also Vice President of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Follow her on Twitter @LevinsonJessica. She blogs at PoLawTics.lls.edu

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