Secede! – Take Two
By John D. Turner
14 Oct 2017

Back in April 2016, I wrote an article on Texas secession. The article was engendered by a piece I read in the Washington Post concerning the Texas Succession Movement, a separatist group here in the Lone Star State who were gaining some traction due to the upcoming perceived victory in the Presidential race by Hillary Rodham Clinton. At that time, there was a proposal for secession to be voted on during the Texas GOP convention on 12 May of that year.

As it turns out, the attempt to force a floor vote on the topic failed in committee. Had the floor vote actually occurred and had it somehow been passed, it would have been nothing more than a curiosity without force of law. The Civil War pretty conclusively settled the issue of whether states had the right to voluntarily back out of the union that they had voluntarily accepted.

This fact was gleefully pointed out in the comments that followed the article, by those on the left, who were not shy about heaping scorn on those who would even contemplate doing such a heinous thing. Terms like “morons,” “batshit crazy,” “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out,” were rife. Some quotes include: “the rest of us would be better off without Texas; Texas, the biggest disgrace to America; how about the rest of America get to vote on whether we ‘want’ Texas to stay in America…because WE DON’T!!!; any one that voted for succession needs to be tried for being a TRAITOR against the USA and the constitution; Dang! Wish they would secede, and take that dangerous ghoulish viper Greg Abbot with them. And Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz and Louid Gohmert and …”. In all, the Texas Succession Movement article drew 3815 comments, mostly from our good friends on the left, very few of which were positive.

Fast forward to November 2016, less than a week after the national elections, which saw not a Hillary Clinton landslide as had been predicted only a few days before, but rather a 306 – 232 electoral sweep by Donald Trump (which turned out to be 304 - 227 after 7 faithless electors voted otherwise); a margin of victory that, had it gone the other way, would certainly have led to cries of “mandate” by those on the left.

Ironically, the cry of “secede!” was heard again; not from the good folk of Texas, but rather from our good friends on the left who, having lost the election, wanted no part of any country with Donald Trump at the helm.

I find it interesting that when Texas was the subject of secession, those on the left considered it treason, but for some reason when Californians start talking secession, they seem to think that the United States should voluntarily let them go. I guess, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, secession is not illegal in the first person, as in our secession, it is only in the third person, their secession, that it is illegal.

So, having taken a look at what secession might mean for the State of Texas should her citizens decide to pursue that path, let’s now take a look at what secession might mean for the State of California and the United States as a whole should California decide to leave.

Californians like to boast that if California were a country it would be the sixth largest economy in the world (expressed in GDP), and that is true. In fact, California’s GDP exceeds Texas by quite a bit, and the two states come in 1 and 2 respectively within the United States. California is headquarters to 54 Fortune 500 companies, putting it first in the nation. Californians like to think of themselves as the technology center of the nation, touting Silicon Valley as the driving force behind American technology, and there is no doubt that the loss of these companies to the United States bottom line would hurt. But the idea that we would fall apart technologically in their absence is ludicrous. (Incidentally, Texas comes in number two, according to InfoWorld, right behind California in the top 10 states for IT jobs.)

It is certainly true that the loss of $2.6 trillion in state GDP would smart. It is interesting to note however that even though California leads the nation in GDP by a vast amount, ten states lead California in GDP per capita. This is due to large inequalities in wealth; something that those on the left claim to abhor, but which this very blue state seems unable or unwilling to address within its own borders.

I have also read, on the sites of those now advocating for California to go it alone, that California is a net “giver” state; that is, that California sends more to Washington DC than it gets back in the form of federal assistance. I guess it all depends on how you measure such things. As entwined as the federal government is in the affairs of all the states, determining the exact amount that each state receives in all forms of federal remuneration is a difficult exercise. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office recently attempted that exercise, determining that in FY 2014 the federal government spent around $368 billion in the state.

In FY2014, California paid nearly $369 million in combined federal tax revenue; $314 billion in individual income and employment tax and $46 billion in business income tax. This is by far the largest amount of any state, over $100 billion more than number two Texas. By these numbers, California sends a billion dollars more to Washington than it receives. Kudos to California.

California, like Texas, also has a significant military presence. While federal military forces might depart an independent California, the state would still retain the facilities, which could not be moved. These include a large naval port in San Diego, five active Air Force bases, two Marine Corps bases, an Army base, and various other military installations. Like Texas, California also has numerous former WW II installations as well.

Like most states, California has an Army and Air Force National Guard. Like Texas, they also have a State military reserve as well. California’s National Guard is the largest in the nation with a total authorized strength of 22,900 soldiers and airmen. The Army National Guard comprises the 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 100th Troop Command, 49th Military Police Brigade, 224th Sustainment Brigade, 223rd Regimental Training Institute, 115th Area Support Group, and Special Operations Detachment-North. The Air Guard component comprises the 129th Rescue Wing, 144th Fighter Wing (F-15), 146th Airlift Wing (C-130J), 163rd Reconnaissance Wing (MQ-1 Predator), and the 195th Wing.

California has 11 major ports. The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest port in the United States. Combined with the adjacent Port of Long Beach, the two make up the sixth busiest port in the world. The Naval base at San Diego is the homeport of the Pacific Fleet, and is one of the largest bases the Navy has.

Much as I like Texas, I must admit that the United States could more afford to lose Texas than it could California. Do I think that California could “make it” as an independent country? Sure. It definitely has the resources to do so. Would it be as easy a thing as those on the left seem to think? Probably not.

California is a net energy debtor. Currently, California gets 33% of its energy from other states. Despite rising energy demands, no major new power generation plants, other than some impressive wind farms, have been built in California for the past 20 years. As a big believer in man-made global warming, California has passed numerous laws to cut carbon emissions and increase its percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources other than hydroelectric.

California has a fairly eclectic mix of power production capabilities, just not enough to meet its growing demand. Unfortunately, California also eschews nuclear power as well, having only one operational nuclear plant, which is scheduled to be shuttered in 2025. California also plans to close its last remaining coal fired power plant in the near future.

There would be some impact to jobs also, as people directly employed by the federal government in certain areas would no longer be needed. Workers at national parks come to mind, although I would presume that California would pick up the tab for that. Of course, California would have to pick up the health care and welfare tab for all of its citizens, with no aid from the remaining states; no more federal highway funds; no more federal education funds, etc., etc., etc.

A bigger question however, is exactly how California might successfully pursue secession. Again, when it was Texas, many on the left (many from California) were quick to point out that secession was impossible, if not treasonous to even suggest.

The California Freedom Coalition believes that, though difficult, there is a successful path to secession, and that the key lies within the Constitution itself, citing the 10th amendment. One should note that the 10th amendment was there in 1860, and was cited by the south as justification for secession. One should also note that Abraham Lincoln, the President, was singularly unimpressed with the argument.

The CFC is starting its process by collecting signatures for a 2018 ballot initiative in California, which would repeal a provision in the state constitution that declares California is “an inseparable part of the United States,” removing a state-level impediment to secession. The initiative also “directs the governor of California to negotiate for greater autonomy from the federal government and to establish an advisory commission on California autonomy and independence.”

After this, should the good citizens of California actually decide to secede, they would attempt to get the cooperation of the federal government to allow them to peacefully leave. As Dave Marin, the director of research and policy for the CFC puts it, they would simply “annoy” Congress into allowing California to leave. As Marin puts it, “Our state government is very experienced at doing things that undermine the federal government without being unconstitutional.” He cites the sanctuary city movement as an example. I would probably add the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as well.

Leaving aside for the moment that “undermining the federal government” smacks of sedition, would this approach actually succeed? Who knows? Could the South have actually succeeded in secession had they not fired on Ft. Sumter? What if they had tried to negotiate instead – to “annoy” Congress into letting them leave? What if they had fought it in the courts and on the world stage?

Personally, I doubt this would work. It is a long-term strategy in a country with a short-term attention span. Administrations change. Should Hillary (or someone like her) be elected in 2020, the whole issue will submerge, much as Texas secession has disappeared in Texas with Hillary’s defeat. At that point, we might be looking at a Texas secessionist movement again.

No matter who has control of the Congress, I can’t imagine any sentiment there for allowing California to secede. Democrats would oppose, as the loss of California’s electoral votes would make it difficult for them to win the White House in the future. The loss of revenue, resources, and infrastructure would be catastrophic for the US.

As much as proponents might like to cite the 10th amendment, there are no provisions for secession in the Constitution. What would a vote in congress look like? Would a simple majority in both houses suffice? (Leaving out for the moment the fact that 60 votes would likely be needed in the Senate, as a cloture vote would undoubtedly be required.) Would a 2/3 majority be needed? Would a constitutional amendment be needed to answer such questions?

Then there is the precedent that would be set. If California were to be allowed to leave, how could you say no to any other like-minded state or group of states? Currently there are multiple secessionist movements in the US, including Alaska, Cascadia (Washington State, Oregon, and British Columbia), Hawaii, New Hampshire, New England, Vermont, and of course, Texas. There is a movement to set up a country called Lakotah, a Native American republic, comprising North and South Dakota, and parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. Most Americans are not aware of these movements, but a successful “CalExit” could lead to increased interest in these and others.

California secession could lead to the complete dissolution of the United States as we know it.

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