Secessionists seeking to make California an independent country hope to start gathering signatures for their “Calexit” ballot measure in a few weeks even as they come under fire for ties to Moscow.
The secessionists say they plan to highlight divisions between the state’s voters and the Trump administration.
But an economic impact analysis released this week on the plan to make the Golden State an independent nation has raised questions about the measure’s legality. And the pro-independence Yes California organization’s decision to open a California cultural center in Russia last month by partnering with a Kremlin-funded group has also raised eyebrows.
Yes California’s founder, Louis Marinelli, who currently lives in Russia, opened the cultural center in Moscow with a partner, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. Yes California hopes to open similar venues in other nations to promote the independence movement.
“We are not requesting any kind of military assistance from Russia,” Marinelli said in a video on the Yes California website. “… We’re opening up a conversation in Russia.”
The center’s opening comes as U.S. intelligence agencies and lawmakers discuss allegations of Russian hacking and other interference in the U.S. presidential election.
The state Attorney General’s Office expects to issue a title and summary for the ballot measure – dubbed “Calexit: The California Independence Plebiscite of 2019” – by Jan. 25. That would clear the way for supporters to collect the more than half-million signatures needed to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot.
This initial 2018 measure seeks to repeal a section in the state constitution that says, “The State of California is an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land.” It also would allow voters to decide if a plebiscite should be held in March 2019 that asks, “Should California become a free, sovereign and independent country?”
Though Yes California incorporated two years ago, Donald Trump’s victory supercharged interest in the effort, according to the vice president of Yes California, Marcus Evans. Hillary Clinton won the state by 30 points - or roughly 4.3 million votes.
The group’s Twitter following went from 500 before Trump’s victory to more than 11,000 afterward. Its Facebook membership doubled to 30,000, and donations have been going up 1,000 percent, Evans told AMI Newswire. And the group sent out emails this week in an effort to raise funds to print up petition forms for its 6,700 volunteers.
Still, some of the state’s political commentators remain doubtful about whether the ballot measure will succeed.
“I don’t think it’s even feasible if it’s constitutionally allowed in any way,” Peter Mathews, a California political analyst and Cypress College professor, told AMI.
The interest in the independence measure is a sign of divisions within the nation, as well as a rise in nationalism around the globe, Mathews said. Unfettered globalization has led to a dislocation of many people’s livelihoods – in the United States and in Europe – and that has bred resentment toward governing elites, he said.
“They have not seen to the needs of the common person,” said Mathews.
Wages and income for many Americans have been stagnant for years, Matthews said. Even as the unemployment rate dropped, new jobs have not been as high-paying as those that were lost.
The political science professor does acknowledge the differences between California and the rest of the nation. While the GOP extended its influence in other parts of the nation in the wake of November’s presidential vote, Californians remains a Democratic stronghold. While backing Clinton, California voters also sent 39 Democrats and just 14 Republicans to the House.
“If California left the nation, it would make it difficult for Democrats to dominate the rest of the United States in national elections,” said Mathews, who urged Californians to remain in the union and to continue to fight for values such as social justice and equal opportunity.
The ballot measure carries with it many legal and financial uncertainties, according to an analysis authored by California Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and California Finance Director Michael Cohen.
“This measure could be found by courts to be an unconstitutional revision of California’s basic governmental framework, either (1) preventing it from ever reaching the ballot or (2) invalidating it in whole or in part if voters approved it at an election,” the analysis says.
The authors also see major fiscal and economic impacts should California become an independent nation. “These details would depend, for example, on the sorting out of the liabilities, property holdings, border arrangements, military infrastructure, and other details relevant to both the smaller U.S. and the newly independent California,” said the report.
Yes California’s complaints about being part of the United States range from what it sees as a flawed election system to problems with immigration to health care. California’s electoral votes have had a real impact only on a very few presidential election outcomes, Evans said, and most of the elections are now called for one candidate before the state’s votes are even counted.
Legal scholars disagree about whether states have any legal right to secede from the union. But one avenue for secession would be passage of a constitutional amendment on California secession by three-fourths of the states, according to Jason Sorens, author of “Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy” and a lecturer at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
“That would pass legal muster by any standard, including the one put down in the 1869 Supreme Court decision in Texas v. White,” Sorens told AMI.
Secession might even be negotiated through a less onerous means, he said.
“There’s actually a debate about whether the conditions need be so stringent,” Sorens said. “I’m of the view that if Congress passed a law authorizing secession, that would be sufficient even under existing case law.”
Yes California sees the coming months as a prime time to advance the independence cause. “This signature collection period will run parallel to the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s ‘honeymoon’ when he will be pursuing his most ambitious and reprehensible policies with the wind at his back,” the group’s fund-raising letter says.