Pando

Jefferson Harebrained: Tim Draper is still determined to fix California by breaking it

By Dan Raile , written on July 3, 2015

From The Disruption Desk

Remember Tim Draper’s plan, announced last year, for a ballot initiative to split California into six states?

The story got picked up nearly everywhere. Draper even appeared on the Colbert Report. The campaign, of course, was dead on arrival, but the drama behind it refuses to die.

It seems Arno Petition Consultants -- tagline: “Putting the Power in ‘People Powered’ Politics”-- the firm Draper hired to collect the necessary signatures, may have been pulling shenanigans in the course of their shoe-leather work. Though complaints bubbled up during the signature drive alleging fraudulent tactics, it wasn’t until September, months after Draper triumphantly declared his success to USA Today, that election officials determined only 66 percent of the gathered autographs were valid, disqualifying the measure from the ballot. Draper vowed to do a recount, and suggested postponing the Six Californias initiative until 2016. At some point in the time since, the initiative quietly died.

What makes the case curious is that one always assumes a venture capitalist to be duly diligent. And yet, signature-gathering shenanigans appear to be something of APC’s specialty.

Fortunately those unsavory vapors haven’t managed to rob Draper of his zany grin, and this summer he’s been at it again, albeit with less fanfare. On Sunday, his online Fix California Challenge wrapped up, and it too managed to underwhelm even the lowest of expectations.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal that received the most votes on Draper’s new crowdsourced petition platform concerned breaking California into more that one state, though the total number of resulting Californias was trimmed to two.

Turnout was rather low. The two-state solution won with only 283 anonymous online votes in favor and 83 against. It garnered 72 comments, many of them posted by “mcbair”, the user who submitted the petition, a strict Constitutionalist who frequently invokes capital-L “Liberty.” Mcbair also has a tech angle:

“Soft ware[sic] and computer technology will create an electronic state infrastructure which can operate without masses of government technocrats and bureaucrats and the masses of tax money they require.”

What makes the final tally seem even lower is that the proposal in question is actually a going concern among the roughly 500,000 people that stand to call the mountainous new state of Jefferson home. In the past two years, the legislative bodies of six Northern California counties --Siskiyou, Glenn, Modoc, Yuba, Tehama and Sutter -- have voted in favor of a resolution to withdraw from the state of California and form Jefferson. The decision will be put to voters this fall in Lake and Lassen counties. It already won at the ballot in Tehama County.

The most common grievance cited by the would-be Jeffersonians is the underrepresentation of Northern California in the Sacramento legislature, amounting to domination of the remote hill people by the urban elites. The issue is a libertarian nesting doll and, like the national brand, this microcosm rests on a blended constituency of folks who hate the EPA and those who love cannabis. In Northern California more than anywhere else, these are often the same people.

The idea of two Californias is old and cursed. It first cropped up in 1859, ten years into California statehood, when both the state governor and legislature voted to split the state in half at the 36th parallel. The issue never got taken up at the Federal level and was lost in the shuffle of the Civil War. In 1941, a popular movement to create the state of Jefferson got going among the counties of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The aspiring Jeffersonian counties even declared Independence that fall:

“Jefferson is now in patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon. Patriotic Jeffersonians intend to secede each Thursday until further notice…”

Of course, the Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor a couple months later, and Thursdays have been secession-free in California ever since.

In 1941, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Stanton Delaplane wrote, as part of a series of articles that won him a Pulitzer:

“Gun-toting citizens of these rebel counties are partly mad, partly in fun, partly earnest about this new state.

This is the amazing and unknown land of America. This is the last frontier and the hard stand of rugged individualism that is not a political slogan.”

These days, the people up on the hill sit enviably at the source of most of California’s remaining water supply, and have the assurance that comes with providing much of the nation’s weed supply. Though their latest push to secede was contemporaneous with Draper’s Six Californias effort, they didn’t seem too eager to share a bandwagon with the guy, judging from the final tally. Who needs Tim Draper’s help, after all, when you’ve already got www.jeffersonstate.com?

Even so, splitting California in two managed to nearly double the vote total of the next closest idea in the Fix California Challenge -- a proposal to make it easier to fire underperforming government employees.

There’s a case to be made that the Challenge succeeded in the breadth of its submissions even if they might have failed on depth. In total, 475 proposals were put forward. But to what end? In an editorial last month in the Los Angeles Daily News, Draper cast the chum in the water.

“If you bring your idea to me via www.FixCal.org, we’ll take a look at it and maybe we can get it on the ballot,” he writes.

Draper refers to “the many problems plaguing California,” but doesn’t bother to cite a single one. He’s all about the positive.

“We have a government that is stuck in the past and it has become clear that we simply cannot rely on our current system in Sacramento to solve our problems. We need a government that is as forward-looking as the people it serves.

“As a venture capitalist, I see innovative ideas and solutions every day, and I recognize that we get most of our ideas when people come together and collaborate. This works in business and technology, and government should be no different, but it is.”

Ah, California. Where the top-ranking American official from the reconstruction efforts in post-war Europe and the last-ditch chairman of Mexican Light and Power before that country nationalized its grid, can settle down and start a family -- and the first venture capital firm on the West Coast.

By and by, living off the fat of the land, that family can prosper and continue granddad’s VC legacy, buy the best and tallest building in downtown San Mateo, and slap the old surname on it in letters as tall as a man, right next to the word ‘heroes.’

Here in the Valley of Heart’s Delight, those descendents can come together, father and son, to buy up a sizable chunk of the global bitcoin supply off the Federal Government, start a school and an incubator, and maybe even get a reality TV show made about it all.

And someday maybe, just maybe, they can make an irrevocable dent in this young state’s storied history. Or at least drum up some new dealflow in the effort.