RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. ( Associated Press) – Last November’s election showed how Californians continue to support progressive leaders, but voters in the state’s most populous county are so disenchanted with the political direction that they’ve gone to the extent of considering forming their own state. Voted for
San Bernardino County – home to 2.2 million people – narrowly approved the ballot proposition. With this, the local authorities received a mandate to study the possibility of a secession. The narrow margin of victory is the latest sign of political tensions and economic woes in California.
This effort to create a new state — which would be the first since Hawaii in 1959 — is really a long shot for this county east of Los Angeles that has seen a sharp rise in the cost of living. A secession would depend on a green signal from the California Legislature and Congress, which is highly unlikely.
Still, it is significant that the vote comes from a racially and ethnically diverse county that is politically mixed, the fifth most populous in the state and the largest in the nation by area. San Bernardino’s 51,800 square kilometers (20,000 sq mi) covers more land than the country’s nine states.
The vote speaks to the separation some voters feel from a legislature long dominated by Democrats, which has made little progress on a growing homelessness crisis, rising housing costs and rising crime rates. , while residents pay some of the highest taxes in the country.
There is “a lot of frustration in general” with state government and how public dollars are being spent and how little is coming into the county, said Kurt Hagman, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who put the proposal on the ballot. The county will consider whether billions of dollars in state and federal funds were shared fairly with the local governments of the so-called “Inland Empire.”
“It’s been a tough few years” for residents, Hagman says, from record inflation to friction over state policies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kristin Washington, the Democratic Party representative for San Bernardino County, dismissed the measure as a political maneuver to appeal to conservative voters rather than a barometer of popular mood.
“Putting it on the ballot was a waste of time for voters,” he says. “The real option of secession of the state is not even realistic because of all the steps that actually need to be taken.”
In San Bernardino County, Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans by 12 percentage points. Nevertheless, in November, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom lost the county by 5 points. He easily defeated an opposition-led effort last year to sue him for revoking his mandate and removing him from office over his pandemic health orders that closed schools and businesses. California was one of the first states to close schools and turn to online teaching, and one of the last to bring students back to face-to-face classrooms.
Democrats dominate the California legislature and the federal congressional delegation, and the state is known as an incubator for center-left politics on climate, health care, labor issues and immigration, so voting for secession was seen as a response. Can be seen in State preferences. Once solidly Republican ground, San Bernardino County has become more diverse and Democratic as have San Diego and Orange County with recent population growth.
During its 172-year history, California has faced more than 220 failed attempts to split the state into six smaller states, according to the California State Library. One of the previous attempts at secession was one that sought to create a new “Jefferson State” out of about two dozen northern California counties that were largely rural, conservative-leaning, and sparsely populated.
Some of these secession efforts are motivated by competition between mining and agricultural interests, as well as opposition to taxes. There are also proposals to divide the extended state lengthwise into two sections—north and south—to create a separate coastal and inland region.
“Everybody outside this county thinks we’re the Wild West,” says Paul Lyons, the mayor of Ontario, whose city is the largest in the county. Despite the county’s size, it gets “little by little” when it comes to state and federal aid for roads, courts and transit, says Lyons, who supported initiatives to discuss segregation.
The city of San Bernardino, with a population of approximately 220,000, is the third largest metropolitan area in the state after Los Angeles and San Francisco. Beyond urban centers, its communities range from sleepy suburbs crisscrossed by freeways, hill towns lined with tall pine trees, and secluded desert enclaves like hippy Joshua Tree. Inflation and economic stress challenge many communities. Before the pandemic, the county’s unemployment rate was already 9.5% in 2019, with 12.2% of households below the poverty line.
“I’m very skeptical of these segregationist moves,” says William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.
“State issues are not likely to be addressed by a judicial court block,” Deverell said in an email. The researcher says he distrusts the “arrogance” of expressions such as: “If only this part of the state could go its own way, because we are not the root of the problem.”
With the proposal approved in November, the county’s next step is to form a commission — possibly composed of members from the public and private sectors — to conduct an analysis that will compare San Bernardino to other counties on funding.
Many communities in the Inner Empire are struggling economically despite the fact that California’s economy could soon become the fourth largest in the world. It is currently the fifth.
The state announced last month that it had restored all 2.7 million jobs lost at the start of the pandemic. However, next year’s budget deficit is projected to hit $25 billion and there are signs of a shaky economy, as the historically powerful tech industry has also registered layoffs.
According to a study by the Hoover Institution, from 2018 to 2021, 352 companies moved their headquarters from California to other states. After decades of growth, the state’s population of 39 million has shrunk as residents leave for states offering more affordable housing and lower taxes.
Due to the decline in population, the state will also lose one seat in the federal Congress in 2023, falling from 53 to 52.
Home prices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other metros often exceed $1 million and rise rapidly. Billions of dollars spent statewide have made no apparent difference to the homelessness crisis in many cities. All this has fueled questions about the direction of the state, which has long been regarded as the land of opportunities.
“A lot of Californians are unhappy in a lot of ways,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna University, citing record gas prices, rising costs of living and prices that make homeownership unaffordable for many working-class families. Where did you go?
Pitney continued, “The vote on secession was like breaking crockery: it’s a way to get attention, but in the end it doesn’t achieve much.”
Even Hagman says he doesn’t want to see his home state fall apart, though he sees the bill’s passage as an important statement about frustration with the Sacramento-based state government.
He added, “I just want to be a part of California right now.” “I’m a proud Californian.”