After Trump inauguration, 'CalExit' ballot measure builds steam

The dome and exterior of the California State Capitol building in 2015, in Sacramento.
The dome and exterior of the California State Capitol building in 2015, in Sacramento.
George Rose/Getty Images

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Acknowledging that the legal and political obstacles are formidable, the proponent of a state ballot measure to sever California's ties with the United States and form its own nation has been cleared to start collecting signatures.

If passed by voters, the measure, "California Nationhood. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statue," would remove language from the state constitution describing California as "an inseparable part of the United States of America" and require the governor to request admission for California to the United Nations.

That would be just the start of a long and arduous path to nationhood.

In order to be eligible for the 2018 ballot, the proponent, Marcus Ruiz Evans, will have to collect 585,407 valid signatures from California voters by July 25.

According to an opinion article he recently wrote for the San Jose Mercury News, Evans said "almost 7,000 volunteers" will collect the signatures — an extremely difficult task without professional signature gatherers. It's generally believed to cost at least $1.5 million to finance a successful signature gathering drive of that magnitude. So far, campaign records on file show the Yes California committee has raised no money.

In his op-ed, Evans, who appears to be based in Fresno, acknowledged that separation from the U.S. won't be easy.

"Taxes, military bases, establishing an army are just a few of the issues," Evans wrote, adding that "California has the benefit of the Federal Supreme Court decision of Texas v. White (decided after the Civil War), which said states cannot violently unilaterally secede, but they could secede 'through consent of the states.'"

Ultimately, secession would require a federal constitutional amendment and require two-thirds of the states to approve it. A very tall order indeed.

But given the 4.3 million vote margin California gave to Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the notion of secession — no matter how fanciful — might well appeal to angry, frustrated and worried Californians. A recent Reuters/Ipos poll found that 32 percent of Californians support forming a separate nation.

Loose talk of secession has come up before after major political swings. In 2009, then-Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (now President Trump's nominee to lead the Energy Department) said, "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

California's enormous size and diverse population also inspired a failed effort to break the state up into six smaller states.

And how would President, I mean Governor Jerry Brown feel about it? While I doubt he'd give it much credence, there is reason to think the idea might capture his imagination. Years ago, a former top aide to Brown when he was governor the first time around in the 1970s, told me that he loved to contemplate all kinds of scenarios.

"We once discussed the pros and cons of having the California National Guard invade Nevada," he told me. That could be music to the ears of the CalExit campaign.

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