The likelihood of California, Oregon and Washington seceding
Since the election, there’s been talk of Oregon, California and Washington seceding, breaking off from the rest of the country to form their own nation. Or even to join up with Canada.
In California, the notion was titled “CalExit,” a take on Brexit. On Monday, the Yes California Independence Campaign took the first step to try and make CalExit a reality. They submitted a proposed ballot measure to the state attorney general’s office, and they hope to start gathering signatures so Californians can vote on the secession in 2018.
There have also been movements for Oregon and Washington seceding.
What are the chances of any of this actually happening? University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer says slim to none. I asked him about the steps the states would have to take to secede.
“There is not a good rationale under international law for California, Washington, and Oregon to secede from the United States on the grounds that they’re oppressed,” Spitzer said. “All that’s happened so far is they lost an election.”
“Perhaps they could have a referendum and vote to secede to form a new country,” he said. “But if people voted for that, maybe by 50 or 60 percent, that’s probably all you’d ever get, then you’d have to talk to the United States and say, ‘Would you like to let us secede?’ Of course, the last time that happened, in 1861, the United States said ‘No! We’re an indivisible country and we’re not going to allow that to happen.'”
“Then we would be stuck with staying in the United States or being willing to fight about it,” Spitzer notes. “The last time that happened in the 1860’s there were more than 600,000 people killed in the armies of the north and south. I’m not sure there’s going to be much stomach for that.”
The people in these states who want to secede tend to be liberal pacifists, so a war would probably be out of the question.
“War is not the only approach,” Spitzer said. “It might be conceivable that there would be massive, permanent, civil disobedience such as massive refusal to pay income tax to the national government, massive, say, not using the postal service anymore. Basically, people would no longer use the national government for anything within these three states. That’s actually much more likely in a fairly peaceful country like ours.”
Alternative to Washington seceding
Professor Spitzer believes the country would be much more successful if it were split into smaller sections, like Canadian provinces.
“What makes much more sense is to re-divide the United States into 13 states, just like we originally had,” he said. “With much more of the government responsibility being allocated to each of the 13 states, which would be larger, which would have more influence together, just like the provinces in Canada fundamentally have much more influence over national policy.”
“I think the federal government should do much less, particularly outside of defense and international trade and foreign relations,” Spitzer said. “The states should have a lot more responsibility. I think that we could accomplish all the benefits of secession by staying in an economic union with the rest of the United States, and in a defense union, but having a lot more responsibility sent back to the states, which is where it originally was back in 1787.”
If the idea of Washington seceding sounds ridiculous, it has worked in other places, however.
“When Norway left the federation with Sweden in 1905 they had a vote of the people to secede and it received 99.95 percent of the vote to leave Sweden,” Spitzer said. “So it was pretty hard under those circumstances for Sweden to say, ‘Oh, you still have to stay.'”
That said, I don’t know if there’s anything that 99 percent of Americans would agree on.