To: Governor Jerry Brown of California; Governor Greg Abbott of Texas
From: Joe Mathews
If North and South Korea can have a peace summit, why can’t California and Texas do the same?
The United States desperately needs its two biggest states to figure out how to keep the country together.
Yes, you are very different places. But you have one big thing in common: You’re both nation-sized places (California has 40 million people and the world’s fifth largest economy; Texas has 28 million and the world’s 10th largest economy) stuck in a giant country whose leaders are intent on dividing it.
The D.C. business model for elections depends on ever-greater polarization of the American electorate. So national politicians now run the government as a spoils system for their donors and politically favored demographics.
As a result, California and Texas, despite their differences, share an enemy: federal power.
For more than a century, whichever party controls the White House has seized more authority for the U.S. government. Recent presidents of all stripes have ruled increasingly by executive fiat. Often this dictatorial federal power has been aimed at your two states.
The drill is now familiar. A Democratic administration imposes policies contrary to Texas’s conservative preferences. And so Texas sues constantly and ties up federal policy. Now that Republicans are in power, California is targeted for its progressive policies – and responds with relentless, choking litigation.
The New York Times recently called this a legal civil war. It also takes time and resources away from your states’ efforts to improve your people’s lives. And the resentments create internal divisions. Both of your states have movements seeking secession from the U.S.
The good news? Together, the two of you can break the cycle.
Start with a peace summit. The goals of the talks should be twofold. First, for both states to reaffirm their American-ness and commit to peaceful coexistence. Second, for both states to work together to reduce federal power.
The D.C. Mandarins will call this a revolution. So be it. This is not the United States of 1789, with 13 states and fewer than four million people. Our country of 320 million is simply too big to be governed from Washington. California and Texas need explicit autonomy – in taxation, regulation, environment, health care, and immigration – so they can pursue their own democratic visions of a brighter future.
After all, our states are far more democratic than the federal government, which has a presidency sometimes won by the loser of the popular vote, a U.S. Senate that defies equal representation, and unaccountable bureaucracies.
A joint effort for greater autonomy for both states – pursued through politics, lawsuits, and constitutional amendment – would be healthy. With autonomy, your states wouldn’t be able to blame the federal government for your own follies. Instead, California might have to confront how its oppressive environmental regulation makes building sufficient housing impossible. And Texas might have to face how its lack of planning puts its people in flood plains in the path of hurricanes.
To start talks, California should revoke its counterproductive ban on government-funded travel to Texas. Yes, the Lone Star State has discriminatory laws on LGBTQ issues, but how do you change minds if you can’t meet people?
There is plenty of common ground. Why not start the talks in California-friendly Austin, where Apple employs 6,000 people? Or Gov. Brown could take Gov. Abbott to oil-rich Bakersfield for a meal at Wool Growers, which serves the cuisine of the Basques – a people famed for fighting for sovereignty.
These talks won’t produce the political equivalent of “Pancho & Lefty,” the famed album from California’s Merle Haggard and Texas’s Willie Nelson. But regular California-Texas summits would remind us that, in our diverse nation, there may be no peace treaty more powerful than an agreement to disagree.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at email@example.com.