Wednesday, March 12, 2014

San Diego County Partition Would Complicate Foundering “South California” Statehood Movement

While several plans to secede from, or subdivide, the State of California gather steam—including the State of Jefferson and a new “Six Californias” proposal—one languishing statehood movement in southern California faces a new challenge to its already-gerrymandered map: the possibility of San Diego County splitting in two.

Though it is still a new idea, some residents in the arid, less populous east of California’s southernmost county, think they would be better off on their own.

The current flag of San Diego County
A Valentine ’s Day “reader’s editorial” in East County magazine (which seems to think “editorial” means any opinion piece), by one (possibly pseudonymous?) Libby Belle, lists the ways in which eastern communities like Julian, Ramona, Alpine, Jamul, and Jacumba Hot Springs are slighted by San Diego’s eponymous county seat: fire safety, public safety, rural poverty, access to public services, and the county government’s imposition of wind energy programs on east-county residents, at the expense of solar energy.  The new entity would be called Chaparral County, inspired by a series of stories in that same publication which called east county residents’ revolt against takeovers of local fire departments “the Chaparral Rebellion.”

And local media quoted one resident as saying, “For instance, like the sheriffs would respond faster.  Then [San Diego Gas & Electric] wants to put their Powerlink in further … Drained our lake … They want to put the sexual perverts out here, too … I feel like San Diego does not care.”

San Diego County has subdivided before.  It used to stretch all along California’s border with Mexico and to the Arizona state line until Imperial County was created out of its eastern half in 1907.  That was the last time a new county was created in the state.

A county partition would have repercussions beyond the current county borders.  For one thing, it throws a wrench into the works of one Jeff Stone, the county supervisor in Riverside County, to the north, who would (as reported earlier in this blog) like a swathe of 13 Republican-dominated counties in the south and east of the state to split away as the State of South California.

Stone’s “Rebellion 2012” plan, as it was originally known, would form South California out of the existing counties of Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Mariposa, Madera, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Tulare (see map above).  The choice of counties makes a certain amount of sense.  Orange County, one of the most consistently Republican-voting counties in the United States, was at the heart of Ronald Reagan’s rise to the governorship in the 1960s and is the birthplace of Richard Nixon and site of John Wayne International Airport.  But the Stone plan eschews the traditionally liberal Los Angeles County and the southern coastal areas in favor of a state boundary that snakes upward through Death Valley, almost all the way to Lake Tahoe, taking in many rural and desert counties that are overwhelmingly Republican.

The one thing that makes Stone’s map look odd is San Diego County.  Though San Diego voted for George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000 (but only by a Florida-like, wafer-thin margin) and John Kerry in 2004, and tends to send Republicans to Washington, it went for Barack Obama by comfortable margins in both 2008 and 2012.  Like many border areas, it is rapidly Hispanicizing, and most observers feel sure it is headed toward becoming a solidly “blue” (Democratic) county.  Surely, that is one component of the secession drive in the county’s more rural and conservative east, but it also makes San Diego County one that Stone would have a hard time convincing to join his new state.  As I pointed out in my analysis of the South California movement a couple years ago, the proposed state would need to include deep-red Orange County and exclude left-wing L.A., and San Diego and Imperial need to be included so as not to leave the remaining part of California split into two noncontiguous chunks.  (Not that that sort of thing hasn’t been done before—see Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or Virginia’s Northampton and Accomack counties or Point Roberts, Washington—but why push it?)  San Diego also brings South California a decent amount of coastline, rather than settling for only Orange County’s smaller coastline, which contains mostly public beaches anyway, instead of San Diego’s world-class global shipping facilities.  And San Diego would make a much more respectable capital for the new state than a backwater like Riverside or Bakersfield, or even Irvine.  But the idea of San Diego County residents consenting to leave California and becoming the most Democratic part of a solidly-Republican state is quite far-fetched.

A not-serious suggestion for a “South California” flag
A successful drive to create Chaparral County would have the effect of making what was left of San Diego County even more Democratic-leaning than it was before.  Chaparral would be a reliably Republican part of South California, but it would put San Diego—and Jeff Stone’s dream of a state that is a bit more than a high-desert gerrymander—permanently out of reach.
Barack Obama (blue) and Mitt Romney (red) voters by county
in the 2012 election in California

But there is another problem, too.  As southern California becomes more Latino with each census, it is not just San Diego County that has become more “blue” in the Obama era.  In 2012, Obama took comfortable leads in other “South California” counties, including Mono, Fresno, San Bernardino, Imperial, and—bad news for Stone, though the margin was narrow—Riverside County itself (see map above).  Gosh, perhaps even “Chaparral County” could be blue!  How much of this is the “Obama effect”—Latinos identifying with and rallying around a candidate of color—or whether the leftward drift of Hispanics in the last two elections is a trend in and of itself, is the $64,000 question among party strategists.  It’s also one that Stone and his “South California” rebels would do well to pay more attention to.

Latino culture thrives in San Diego—and not just under the freeways.
This may not be an issue quite yet.  Of late, South California has taken a back seat to the resurgence of secessionism in the far-north State of Jefferson region and in Silicon Valley, but California has rarely been as fissiparous as it is now.  Stone better dust off his map, and come up with something more viable.

Hollywood votes blue, but the real housewives of Orange County vote red.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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