Editorial: Six Californias campaign was chance to look at disparity in state

The effort to break up California into six states suffered a major setback last week when the secretary of state’s office said the initiative didn’t qualify for the ballot. A blow, for sure, but not necessarily the fatal one that its opponents have been crowing about all weekend.

That will ultimately depend on whether Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper is willing to invest more money to qualify a ballot measure for 2016. He has spent about $5 million to get this far.

It’s his money, of course, but we can’t help but feel bad if the “Six Californias” proposal dies before it get a vigorous public airing.

Although this is a classic example of how the state’s initiative process is flawed, we were looking forward to the campaign because it would have provided the perfect platform for a little healthy introspection.

We got a glimpse of how that discussion might go in the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office examination of the proposal. In a nutshell: Rich California would get richer and poor California poorer. One of those six Californias would be the wealthiest state in all the United States; another, the poorest.

Only Mississippi, the current bottom-place holder, would be rooting for that scenario.

The campaign also would have spotlighted the unequal division of assets and liabilities. Central California, the poorest state, would have three times as many prisons as anywhere else and a fraction of the institutions of higher education.

Central California would lose Sacramento and one of its great natural resources, the Delta, which it might have been able to use to leverage income from the richer states of South California and West California.

It would be charitable to call the “Six Californias” proposal a long shot. But then, most revolutionary ideas were considered loopy at one point.

If Draper managed to get it back on the ballot and eke out a victory, it still would have to be ratified by Congress. Can you imagine a GOP-controlled House approving a plan that would give liberal California more senators?

Draper’s team is challenging the secretary of state’s pronouncement that the measure won’t qualify based on a random sampling of the 1.37 million signatures turned in this summer. The measure needs 807,615 valid signatures. He might sue. He also could start gathering signatures again.

No one would blame Draper if he decides to keep his money and let “Six Californias” expire. And there’s still a chance we’d get a shot at that same conversation if residents in Northern California pursue a proposal to split off from liberal California to form a conservative mecca called “Jefferson.”

They might have a better shot at secession than would Draper. Usually, breakup ideas originate from a tax-donating rich region trying to slough off tax-revenue-sucking poorer ones to keep its money and its assets for itself.

Jefferson, as envisioned by “Six Californias,” would have the second-lowest per capita income, behind Central California and the lowest sales tax base.

Once voters figure out that they can’t tap sales in wealthy Palo Alto or Beverly Hills to pay for schools, they might be less enthusiastic about life in a separate but unequal state.