Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to make California its own country have halted signature-gathering efforts, yet intend to try again in the coming weeks with a retooled proposal and campaign to qualify for next year’s ballot.
A pair of leaders of the Yes California effort said Monday they were pulling the plug on the so-called Calexit proposal. The decision follows months of negative publicity surrounding the whereabouts and motivations of Louis J. Marinelli, a leader of the campaign who currently lives in Russia. Organizers said they want to make a clean break from any push tainted by perceived links to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In an e-mail blast to supporters Monday, Marinelli called public support for Calexit encouraging, but not enough to make it a reality. He added that he intends to seek permanent residence in Russia.
“For me, today, my ballot initiative petition drive came to an end,” wrote Marinelli, who repeated a quote from the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy during his speech at the 1980 Democratic national convention: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and our dream shall never die.”
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Another leader of the effort, Marcus Ruiz Evans, who resigned as vice president of Yes California this week, said Marinelli’s Russia ties had become a distraction and undermined fundraising efforts.
At least nine donors backed out, citing fears of being connected to Putin, Ruiz Evans said, emphasizing that he didn’t see anything “nefarious” or “illegal” actually going on between his former colleague and Russia.
“People got scared,” Ruiz Evans said. “They got spooked by what they saw on the news and pulled out.”
“Absent of claims that something evil was going on backed by Russia, we would have had the money,” he added. “Guaranteed.”
Marinelli will remain president of Yes California and Ruiz Evans will join an existing group, the California Freedom Coalition.
Ruiz Evans said the coalition hopes to file a new California nationhood proposal by May 1.
The Calexit effort emerged within days after the presidential victory of Republican Donald Trump, who lost California by almost 4.3 million votes.
Monday’s announcement came near the halfway point of the Calexit proposal’s signature-gathering effort. Officials cleared proponents to begin collecting signatures in late January and they had until July 25 to collect 585,407 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.
Yet two campaign committees associated with the effort had reported raising no money through Sunday, and it’s unclear how many signatures – if any – backers had collected.
The proposal would have removed language from the California Constitution that classifies the state as “ an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”
If the measure qualified and passed in the November 2018 election, there would have been a statewide special election in March 2019 to ask voters if they want California to become an independent country. Courts, though, could have deemed it unconstitutional.
In addition, the U.S. Constitution includes no mechanism for a state to secede from the U.S. Any Calexit push thus would have needed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring approval by two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of states.
In its analysis of the proposal, the Department of Finance and Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that California nationhood would involve “major economic and budgetary impacts for state and local governments.”