SACRAMENTO - Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper began submitting signatures Tuesday for a ballot initiative that would ask voters to split California into six separate states, a move he said would create governments that are more manageable and responsive to residents' needs.
Draper and a bipartisan team of political consultants delivered what he said were 44,000 signatures to the Sacramento County registrar of voters. The signatures are among 1.3 million the Six Californias campaign plans to submit statewide this week.
If enough signatures are verified, voters in November 2016 would be asked to divide the nation's most populous state into six states called Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California. The regions would vary greatly in size, demographics and incomes.
Draper said the state of 38.3 million people has become ungovernable and that there are too many diverse interests for politicians to effectively represent their constituents.
"We've got all of these constituents, 38 million of us, all trying to talk to the same state," Draper said during a news conference outside the registrar's office. "They're hearing noise coming from all different sides. There is not a concentrated effort to get jobs into the Central Valley because there are so many other issues around all of these different people."
Critics note that the plan would separate the wealthiest and poorest Californians, potentially creating some of the poorest states in the nation. But Draper, who wore a tie with the initiative's proposed new map of the states, brushed away such concerns, saying the individual states could pursue new revenue and jobs when they are freed from other burdens.
"Those places are poor under the current regime. They don't have to be poor. These can be wealthy states," he said.
It's too bad that California's initiative process subjects voters to the whims of an eccentric billionaire, said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant and spokesman for OneCalifornia, a group formed to oppose Draper's initiative.
"If you have $30 million, you can put anything you want on the ballot in California," he said. "It's just a tragedy of the initiative system that the voters have to go through this kind of debate and our state will have to go through this kind of debate for now two years, not just a regular campaign season, just to gratify his ego."
California has the world's eighth-largest economy, right behind Brazil, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, and it outpaced the U.S. in growth last year.
Among the problems the new states and their leadership would face: Whether to grant in-state tuition rates for university systems that would now be out-of-state for some students, how to fund billions of dollars in state public employee pension plans and divvying up crucial resources such as water, much of which is shipped from Northern California to the south.
Draper said residents in the six states could decide whatever they want through social-media platforms that will be hosted by the campaign.
When asked how the geographic boundaries were chosen, Draper gave only a vague answer about grouping like-minded voters together. Counties that are contiguous to other states could choose to align with a different state, he said.
Voters in two Northern California counties in June weighed in on a longstanding effort to create a 51st state called Jefferson. Tehama County voters joined four other counties that are considering breaking away, while Del Norte County voters rejected the idea.
Critics also have questioned whether Draper is tying his political aspirations to the oddball initiative, which most people believe has little chance of passing. He already has spent nearly $2 million of his own money to collect signatures.
"I'm not running for anything, don't want to," said the Republican-turned-Democrat-turned nonpartisan.
Even if voters approve it, Congress would have to give its approval.
"The chances of that happening are, like, less than zero," Maviglio said.