California Forum

Secession 2020? Sigh. Here’s why it shouldn’t happen even if it makes the ballot

The “Yes California” secession group, also known as Calexit, got permission on Monday to begin collecting the 366,880 valid signatures needed to separate California from the rest of the United States.
The “Yes California” secession group, also known as Calexit, got permission on Monday to begin collecting the 366,880 valid signatures needed to separate California from the rest of the United States. The Sacramento Bee

California sometimes reminds me of an old Mad Magazine novelty record, “It’s a Super Spectacular Day.” Maybe you remember it. The song starts out as a jaunty little ditty: “It’s a great big beautiful, wonderful, incredible super-spectacular day!” All the bells are ringing and a little bird’s singing on your window sill ...

Until ... !

Some crazy calamity occurs. What made the record novel was that the second part of the song was different depending upon where you put the needle on the record. The mob mistakes you for a fink and “breaks your arm and does bodily harm.” A UFO abducts you. You die of some freakish disease. A freight train hits you. Funny stuff like that.

California is a great big beautiful, wonderful, incredible, super-spectacular state until some random calamity strikes. An earthquake destroys a major thoroughfare. A devastating wildfire wipes out half of Napa Valley. Somebody decides the state should secede.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday gave the group Yes California the OK to begin collecting at least 366,880 valid signatures for its latest harebrained scheme to set off another secession crisis. We haven’t had one of those in this country since 1860. Anyone remember how that ended?

“Issue after issue, from immigration to agriculture, from taxation to banking, and on a host of other issues, it is clear that California and the United States have irreconcilable differences and it is time for a divorce,” the campaign’s website says. “We shall now begin circulating the petition forms for that divorce.”

If the petition-gathering campaign succeeds – two previous efforts fizzled – we’d get to vote on a referendum in 2020 asking whether California “should become an independent country, in the form of a republic.” If a majority says yes, there would be another vote in 2021 to make Calexit the rest of America’s problem.

Secession a great big beautiful, wonderful, incredible idea until you stop for 10 seconds and think through all of the Yes California scheme’s constitutional, legal, moral and practical barriers. For one thing, the Civil War settled the question whether states can just up and leave the union. A supermajority of states would need to approve this divorce.

For another, California is home to quite a few federal properties. The idea apparently is that the United States would operate Camp Pendleton the way it runs Guantanamo Bay in Cuba – a fully functioning military base surrounded by hostiles.

How would an independent California republic function? Although the Golden State may be the world’s sixth-largest economy, we have massive debts and unfunded public pension and health care liabilities that would make the Greeks tremble. We have some of the greatest universities on the planet. We also have Mississippi-levels of poverty and illiteracy. We have Silicon Valley – a creative, progressive, innovative place where Google employees live in vans and shacks sell for seven-figures.

And if you really want to lose your mind, let’s talk about water rights –

No, let’s not. It’s too horrible to think about.

So you favor “Calexit”? Then exit California. It was just last year that Yes California chairman Louis Marinelli was threatening to decamp for Russia. He decided to stay for some reason. For all the dysfunction of this place – just try being a Republican here – it still beats Moscow (Idaho or Russia) in the winter.

Enough with the utopian speculation. At best, a secession vote would be a morbid exercise in just how much contempt Californians have for each other and for their fellow Americans.

That would be enlightening for political scientists, maybe – but not such a super spectacular Election Day.

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @benboychuk.