Silicon Valley leaders have been dreaming of a place where technology could advance unencumbered by the law. Google CEO Larry Page wants to set aside a part of the world for such experimentation, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel thinks a floating island of entrepreneurs might do the job. By those standards, venture capitalist Tim Draper actually has a slightly more down-to-earth plan. The startup mogul is now proposing to split California into six new states, each of which could craft laws that reflect their local interests.
While the state of Silicon Valley hires more overseas engineers, Draper imagines, a new "South California" could simultaneously crack down on immigration. "West California" could cater laws to Hollywood and defense contractors, and "Central California" could focus on farming and water rights without city slickers getting in the way.
Splitting up California isn't remotely a new idea, nor would it be a new idea for practically any other state. Wikipedia maintains a huge list of US state partition proposals, and California has its very own page.
"I will make sure it gets on the ballot."
But Draper is serious about the idea. He believes he can get the the proposal on California's ballot next November. The venture capitalist already submitted a five-page proposal to the California Attorney General, and he hopes to embark on a grassroots campaign to raise the nearly one-million signatures it would require to put the idea to a preliminary vote next year. At a press conference on Monday, he joked that he would spend "as little as possible" of his own money on the campaign, but suggested that he would personally fund the first step. "I will make sure it gets on the ballot," he told reporters in attendance.
Democrats could say no
Dividing California wouldn't be as simple as a single vote, though. Article IV of the US Constitution states that Congress would need to approve as well. With five new states, California would have ten new senators, and that could give Congress a reason to say no. Political science professor John Pitney told the San Jose Mercury News that Democrats would likely oppose a plan that would give conservatives more seats in Congress — as it might if conservative regions of California suddenly became states. At the press conference, Draper didn't have a good answer for why the rest of the United States would benefit from California's division. He merely argued in vague terms that the United States would be better off as a whole if its parts were better governed. "I think it's going to be indifference from Congress," he says.
Draper's proposal doesn't include ways for California to actually achieve better governance, only suggesting that smaller states would be better equipped to govern themselves, which casts some doubt on the plan. But lest you think that a Silicon Valley venture capitalist is hoping that Silicon Valley can run away with all the money, it's worth noting that the Los Angeles area is responsible for more of California's gross domestic product than all of Silicon Valley.
Primarily, it sounds like Draper simply believes — like many before him — that something has got to give.
"It's really starting to crumble," he says. "The status quo will let it crumble, and I don't want to let it crumble. I want to make it work."