Sure, Tim Draper's plan to slice up the Golden State is ridiculous. The wealthy venture capitalist has drafted a ballot initiative to split California into six separate states, he told Tech Crunch, with Silicon Valley emerging as the richest and most powerful of all. The mockery is already pouring in.
Of course a rich tech guru wants Silicon Valley to get its own government, so it can be freed from the dusty laws and regulations of California 1.0. Of course a deep undercurrent of self-aggrandizing narcissism runs through the proposal—only one other state-to-be gets an actual name, ("Jefferson," which is already the moniker of an ongoing secessionist movement) and the rest are lazily affixed with topographical descriptors: West, South, Central, and North California. Of course the plan is overrun with libertarian-tinged ideology and language—an explicit goal is to "lessen the role of Sacramento over every aspect of our lives." Starting to sound familiar?
Yes, in shaping his doctrine, Draper has conjured the perfect blend of Seasteading's offshore tech nirvana lawlessness, boilerplate Tea Party antiestablishmentarianism, and good ol' secessionist chutzpah.
But here's the thing: Underneath all that Silicon Valley techno-centrism, he's got a point. Though he's probably proposing it for all the wrong reasons, Draper's terrible plan is premised on a totally salient criticism—it's absurd that California only sends two senators to Washington when it is by far the country's most populous state.
Though it's not mentioned outright in the ballot proposal text, he tells Tech Crunch that the number one reason he wants to slice up California is that "It is about time California was properly represented with Senators in Washington."
It's hard to argue with that. Small and sparsely populated states get an absurd advantage when it comes to representation in one of the nation's two legislative chambers. You might have heard it put this way before: a Wyoming voter gets 68 times more representation in the Senate than a Californian. California is home to 38 million people. Wyoming has some 575,000 residents. Yet both states send two senators to Washington, whose votes each count equally. Which isn't ideal if you're aiming for a democracy.
Draper says his plan would smooth that out, and help California voters get the voice they deserve.
"Now our number of Senators per person will be about average," he says. Which, well, kind of: One of the states would have less than 1 million people, and another would have 12 million. That's still a pretty big gulf, and adds credence to the idea that the 'Six Californias' proposal is based less on a desire for equal Senatorial influence and more on getting Silicon Valley it's own government (the better to de-regulate with). But at least it would get millions of people vastly improved representation on a federal level.
Regardless, this is a pretty silly way to address the issue—it's unlikely to pass at the ballot box, for one thing. Who wants their state hacked and divvied up according to the whims of some mega-rich tech tycoon? Second, the federal government would have to approve the whole mess, which it isn't going to.
But that doesn't change the fact that the Senate could probably use reforming—it's not a democratic institution now, and it never really has been. (When it was first formed, the most populous state was 12 times more peopled than the least, which is somewhat better than 68 times, but still.) Right now, half the nation's population lives in just 9 states. Simply by living in those states, they're less represented in the system—if you really want your vote to count, move to Vermont, Wyoming, or North Dakota.
The founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both vehemently protested the two-senators-per-state system, and were in favor of "proportional representation" instead. There are about a million better ways to do it, but Draper's slipshod plan would actually be a step towards that goal—and towards a government that ceases to favor the concerns of rural voters over the urban ones.
Inset map created by the illustrious Philip Bump