Lots of folks believe California is ungovernable. Venture capitalist Tim Draper has a solution: Six Californias, including one called Silicon Valley.
Draper, a maverick tech investor who once poured $20 million into a statewide school voucher initiative, on Monday laid out his case for a proposed ballot measure that, if passed by voters, would demand Congress slice and dice the nation's most populous state.
"We're simply too big and bloated," Draper declared in a news conference from Draper University of Heroes, the San Mateo school for aspiring startup CEOs he opened earlier this year.
Veteran political observers were quick and unanimous in assessing the plan's odds of success at zero. At the same time, they said Draper's modest proposal could spark discussion about how to fix the state's manifold problems, such as bursting prisons and jockeying over water rights.
"The sheer size of California raises questions about representation and accountability. A single state Senate district has more people than all of South Dakota," said John J. Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, east of Los Angeles.
But even though it seems dangerous to bet against a quirky idea catching fire with voters in a state that recalled its governor and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pitney noted that Congressional Democrats would never go along with creating four new Senate seats in California's deeply conservative inland and southern counties. Article IV of the U.S. Constitution reserves for Congress the right to admit new states into the Union.
Draper, who recently dialed back his role at Draper Fisher Jurvetson to focus on his new university and other efforts, suggested that Congress might react to his plan more with "indifference" than resistance.
He argued that the status quo in Sacramento, which regularly features budget gridlock and statehouse gamesmanship, "is not cutting it for our schools, our businesses, our infrastructure or our people."
Dan Schnur, a former Republican political strategist who now runs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, noted that although Draper's 2000 voucher initiative went down in flames, "it also helped force a much broader conversation about school reform. This could very well end up promoting a conversation about rerouting power from the state to local governments."
Draper, wearing a red necktie promoting BizWorld, the nonprofit he launched to teach kids about entrepreneurship, said he plans in coming weeks to begin gathering the roughly 1 million voter signatures needed to place the measure on the November 2015 state ballot. He said people are already flocking to his Spartan website, www.sixcalifornias.info, which he said will soon contain more details about the plan.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given that Draper's investments in companies like Skype and Hotmail have reportedly made him a billionaire, he proposes that one of the new states be called Silicon Valley. It would include San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, as well as nontech hotbeds San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
As for the wine country, sorry Bay Area: Napa, Sonoma and even Marin counties would become part of new North California.
Then again, Draper wrote in the ballot proposal that was submitted last week to the state Attorney General's Office, counties would have the option to switch states, "creating competition which will lead to more responsive governance."
The other states he proposes to carve from the carcass of the once Golden State are South California, Central California, Coastal California and Jefferson -- the same name as an entity first proposed in the 1940s that would have included parts of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
"I think every one of these states will become wealthy as a result," said Draper, 55, who lives in Atherton. "The current system has a horrible problem of haves and have-nots."
Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, a longtime political science professor, allowed himself to imagine that if Draper's vision somehow became law, "You could pass some pretty remarkable legislation." Rather than having to tussle with issues from far-flung counties and ship tax dollars to Sacramento, "Silicon Valley as a state could make all the decisions that were in our own best interest."
Asked by this newspaper how much of his own fortune he plans to sink into his latest political crusade, Draper deadpanned: "As little as possible." Then he added, "I'll make sure it gets on the ballot, so that Californians have a chance to make the decision."
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.
To see the full text of Draper's initiative, go to www.siliconvalley.com.