Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Thirty years ago, you could not ask for more piping-hot, generously portioned slice of Americana than Orange County, California. The beating heart of heartland values was fertile ground for the John Birch Society, Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, anti-illegal immigration causes, and pro-traditional family campaigns.
In 2016, Orange went for a woman who boldly campaigned against what all of these stood for. It was not even close; Hillary Clinton triumphed over Donald Trump by nearly ten points, even as traditionally progressive locales back east shifted into the Republican column.
Across California as a whole, which was never so conservative as Orange County, Clinton secured an astounding 62 percent victory -- beating the Donald by 30 points.
This was surprising even to veteran political observers, who suspected any Democrat would win the Golden State, even if paired against an overwhelmingly popular Republican. The thirty-point margin, bolstered by the partisan defection of Orange County, was not anticipated, though.
California has been breaking from national political trends since 2010, when Democrats rushed Sacramento despite being routed almost everywhere else. 2012 reinforced the events of two years previous, even though congressional and state-level GOPers across the fruited plains did reasonably well. 2014, the mother of all anti-Democratic midterm waves, had no real influence on California's status quo.
2016 brought a rush of anti-Republican -- let alone anti-conservative -- sentiment to Sacramento. A tsunami of progressivism enveloped the state, but hardly anywhere else.
"Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land," State Senate President Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon declared, "because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California.
"We have never been more proud to be Californians .... California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future."
Not if some folks get their way.
"In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidizing the other states to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our children," the YesCalifornia movement declares on its website.
The group, which is pushing for a 2019 independence referendum, goes on to mention that its planned initiative "is about more than California subsidizing other states of this country. It is about the right to self-determination and the concept of voluntary association, both of which are supported by constitutional and international law.
"It is about California taking its place in the world, standing as an equal among nations. We believe in two fundamental truths: (1) California exerts a positive influence on the rest of the world, and (2) California could do more good as an independent country than it is able to do as just a U.S. state."
YesCalifornia has found a groundswell of public support, much of which has been buoyed by Trump's Electoral College super-victory. Still, there is more to the story of CalExit, as secession is often called.
Louis J. Marinelli, YesCalifornia's president, recently spoke with me about many issues relative to the Golden State becoming its own republic; what it was before joining the United States. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Is your organization making sufficient progress in bringing an independence referendum to the ballot?
Louis J. Marinelli: We have only just begun and haven’t even been given the greenlight to begin circulating petitions. We expect to be able to start collecting signatures in the last week of January and that process will last through the middle of summer. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted in January. YesCalifornia has begun attaining signatures and, by any metric, found widespread success.]
We have so many people registered to help collect signatures, people even promising to solicit signatures from clients. One attorney has promised 1000 signatures a month from her clients. We recently sent out an email blast to our supporters telling them that if each person who received that email could turn in 9 signatures, we would have enough signatures to qualify. So, the point is that we have the people and we have the money for the petitions, it is now incumbent upon us to do the job and I am hopeful that our people will not let California down.
Cotto: Given current political trends at the national level, as well as in California, what are the odds that an independence referendum will deliver a majority for secession?
Marinelli: Increasingly so. Don’t forget that our independence plebiscite will be on . That will be two years into the Donald Trump presidency. In other words we are going to have two years of daily reminders on why Californians should vote for independence.
A typical campaign would require us to spend the next two years convincing people to adopt our way of thinking and vote yes. To some extent that is true. But to a large extent we will be able to point to whatever Donald Trump did on a given morning when he woke up in the White House. That will often be enough to remind Californians why they should 1) sign our petition now, and 2) vote YES in 2019.
Cotto: Why might the average Californian support secession -- beyond the partisan political issues often discussed?
Marinelli: This issue boils down to quality of life issues. Independence at the end of the day keeps more of California’s taxes in California. That’s more money in our budget to afford things to improve the quality of life of the people of California -- and make California a more affordable place to live and do business. With this extra tax revenue we will be in a position to afford universal health care and education, improve infrastructure, pay down the debt, and reduce taxes and fees – and that’s after we pay for new obligations like a defense department.
It all comes down to quality of life and we are promising a better quality of life and a lower cost of living.