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Some see splitting state as solution

 

Last updated 2/26/2009 at Noon

While most Californians lament that the state is broke and many criticize a broken system, an organization formed primarily by agricultural interests seeks to break up the state.

Citizens for Saving California Farming Industries (CSCFI) have proposed dividing California into a primarily coastal state and a primarily inland state.

The eastern portion would include 45 counties, including San Diego and Orange, while the western portion would cover 13 counties between the Los Angeles basin and the Bay Area.

“We’ll be able to manage what kind of revenue we’re getting,” said CSCFI chief executive officer and president Bill Maze.

Maze, who lives in Visalia, has seen the impact of the state’s problems both from county and state government positions.

He was in the California State Assembly from 2002 to 2008 and spent the previous 10 years on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.

“They [the state] hold local government – cities, counties, and other special districts – hostage,” he said.

Maze saw a polarization of political parties while in the state legislature and also saw the results of a redistricting process intended to preserve incumbents rather than to represent citizens.

His Assembly district was the largest geographic state Assembly, House of Representatives, or House of Delegates district in the continental United States.

It covered 33,000 square miles including Highway 99 through the San Joaquin Valley, Twenty-Nine Palms and part of Lake Havasu and reached both the Nevada and Arizona state borders.

The passage of Proposition 11 in last November’s election may mitigate some of the gerrymandering of legislative districts, but Maze feels that the political process is still present.

“We’ve all had these little ‘plans’ to fix how we design the districts,” he said. “All of them still have political input into them.”

Those who represent large geographical districts often complain not only about the relative lack of political power compared to urban legislators but also about their inability to represent a variety of constituencies.

The diverse state constituency is seen as a need for two separate states.

“To me the final straw that broke the camel’s back was the passage of Proposition 2,” Maze said.

Prop. 2 addressed the housing conditions of poultry. Animal rights activists saw Prop. 2 as improving the welfare of agricultural birds while farmers doubt they can remain economically competitive with imported egg production.

“They’re going to put them out of business in California and we will lose tens and tens of thousands of jobs,” Maze said.

Although Prop. 2 passed on a statewide basis, it was rejected in 41 of California’s 58 counties.

“You have these kind of voting numbers of basically agriculturally uneducated city dwellers,” Maze said. “That’s the way we see this thing.”

The split would likely make the eastern portion of California a politically conservative state while making the coastal area a liberal state.

The general conservative politics of San Diego and Orange counties, along with strong agricultural economies, led to the placement of those coastal counties into the eastern state.

“It’s all the agricultural base of it as well as what has been more rational commonsense thinking,” Maze said.

Ironically, the type of conservative politics in the two states could be different.

While urban conservatives often focus on social issues, rural conservatives place more emphasis on local government, and water issues are also more important in the decisions of rural voters and legislators.

Maze was born in Woodlake and grew up in Exeter. He and his wife are both graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which would be part of the western state.

While that would give the western remnant an agricultural college, Yolo County and the University of California Davis would be part of the eastern state, as would Fresno State University, University of California Merced, Cal Poly Pomona, and University of California Riverside.

“We can be very self-sustaining, self-supporting,” Maze said.

Maze also noted that the retention of the Port of San Diego, as well as river-accessible ports in Stockton and Sacramento, would allow for commercial transportation to the mostly inland state.

The deficit of the Los Angeles basin and the Bay Area wouldn’t be the problem of the eastern state.

“They’re getting the lion’s share of the state budget as well as having almost exclusive control of what the outcomes are,” Maze said.

The current population of what would be the coastal state is approximately 18.4 million while the population of the 45 counties slated for the primarily inland state totals approximately 19.6 million.

Currently a State Assembly district has a population of approximately 480,000 while a State Senate district contains more than 900,000 residents.

Maze isn’t averse to a unicameral legislature for the new state (currently Nebraska is the only state with only one legislative chamber) and feels that a part-time legislature is a possibility in the eastern state.

“We ought to be thinking about how we change the whole legislature up there,” he said.

The proposed new state does not yet have a specific name, although Grand California has been mentioned as well as East California.

CSCFI had a booth at a farm show in Tulare in February and between 5,000 and 6,000 people dropped by on February 10.

Maze noted that the response in the San Joaquin Valley is approximately 95 percent supportive.

CSCFI will utilize an initiative ballot measure to divide the state.

“You think this legislature in California is going to get anything done?” Maze said. “This will be by the initiative process.”

The initiative, if sufficient petition signatures are collected, will likely be on the 2012 ballot. “It takes a long process here,” Maze said.

The actual petition process timeline could place the initiative on a 2010 ballot, but CSCFI will hold seminars and other educational forums throughout 2009.

Individuals will be identified to be county coordinators in each county; at this time no San Diego County or Riverside County coordinator has been identified.

The outreach will extend to other business groups in addition to the agricultural origin.

“People can really think about it,” Maze said. “Let’s really create some change to this state.”

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