For months, the small, but growing, movement for California to secede from the United States was stalled in part because its nominal leader lives (for now) in Russia and attended at least one Kremlin-approved event for separatist movements around the globe.
But the movement is now changing. The Yes California organization is gone, along with its nominal head, Louis Marinelli (a former San Diego candidate for the state Assembly who teaches English in Russia); so is the putative proposition they hoped to put on the ballot next year.
But the idea lives on with a new name and the same on-the-ground leader. Yes California has morphed into the California Freedom Coalition, which has announced plans to file a reworded secession initiative petition in Sacramento May 19.
At its center remains Marcus Ruiz Evans, whose 2013 book “California’s Next Century 2.10” suggested a kind of semi-independent status for the state. Later, he began advocating complete independence.
Evans’ biography reports he worked 10 years as a liaison between California and the federal government. He says the experience taught him this state is fundamentally different from the rest of America. At first, he pushed for a California status akin to Scotland’s within the United Kingdom, both areas at considerable variance with the rest of their countries. (The UK overall voted for ‘Brexit’, for example, while Scotland voted strongly to stay in the European Union.)
Evans worked with Marinelli on this cause for more than three years. He says its evolution now teams him with a high-ranking Silicon Valley executive, a top sales counselor and a longtime activist protester best known for campaigning outside the Texas ranch of then-President George W. Bush. Those individuals did not return emails asking them to confirm their involvement. But the activist, Cindy Sheehan, was due to lead a march to submit the new separation initiative.
Evans promised the new petition would have a “better text” than the one he pulled back. If it passes with a large majority, the measure could put California on a course toward independence.
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Evans believes sovereignty would work out fine. He pooh-poohs the idea of a new Civil War, with the rest of America fighting to hang onto California.
Part of his reasoning: A recent poll conducted for a television network and an online business publication found 40 percent of those surveyed in the rest of the nation would like to be rid of California.
Evans also claims the Reconstruction-era Supreme Court decision Texas v. White would permit other states to vote to let California go peacefully. But that view was expressed in a dissent, not by the court majority. Which means there is no more of a mechanism for a state to leave now than there was before the Civil War. Of course, there was also no legal way for any colony to leave the British Empire, but it happened.
Nevertheless, Evans maintains secession would be both peaceful and fiscally sound. “I don’t believe the rest of America would go to war with us,” he says. “Unlike the old Confederacy, California doesn’t talk about shooting federal troops and attacking federal forts and bases. California has a culture of non-violence and anti-war activity.”
As for finances, while secession skeptics worry about losing federal grants and other spending, Evans notes that California gets back far less in federal spending than it pays in federal taxes. That’s unlike other states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, which get back as much as 50 percent more than they put in. If Californians paid the same taxes they do now, but sent all of it to Sacramento and none to Washington, D.C., he says, all those grants, salaries and Social Security payments would be covered, with plenty to spare.
Meanwhile, poll support for the ‘Calexit’ idea climbed from about 3 percent in 2014 to 32 percent in one springtime survey, the biggest jump coming when Donald Trump became President. That’s major growth, and the longer Trump remains in office despite decisively losing the popular vote, the more it may increase.
Right now, this still looks like an extreme longshot, but less so than three years ago. And no one can safely predict where popular sentiment might go in the next 15 months, when secession could come to its first vote.