If at First You Don't Secede ...

At the least, California can think like a nation.

Patt Morrison

Los Angeles Times

November 10, 2004

I used to figure California should have its own macho motto like the one Texans love so much: "Don't Mess With Texas."

Then I looked it up, and do you know what that bring-it-on mantra is really about? Littering. "Don't Mess With Texas" is a make-nice 1985 campaign slogan to persuade Texans to stop littering. In 1985, you could legally go careening down a Lone Star State highway with a tall-boy in one hand and a shotgun in the other, but if you tossed the empty beer can or the 12-gauge shell casings out the window you'd get busted by the tidy police. I'm trembling in my Tony Lamas, y'all.

Mindful of that, we really don't need no stinkin' motto, unless we want to rework the Dust Bowl slogan "California or Bust" into "California or Else." Because that's where matters stand now: There's California, and there's everyplace else.

A few weeks ago, I argued in print for restoring the California Republic in the event of a victory by President Bush. As a solo act, California is the world's fifth- or sixth-largest economy. We kept our assault weapons ban when the feds let theirs expire. We support medicinal marijuana while the feds still classify weed right up there with heroin and crack. The American president wants the Constitution to ban gay wedlock once and for all; the California governor says he doesn't care "one way or the other" whether homosexuals get married.

To all of you, and especially those who already applied to me for Cabinet positions in the new California Republic, I must break this news: Erwin Chemerinsky, the former USC constitutional scholar who is now residing in a secure, undisclosed red state, informed me that there is simply no constitutional mechanism for California to secede. I suppose we could arrange a no-fault divorce, but think of the custody battles: They'd get the creationism museum in Santee, we'd keep Yosemite. From there it would get nasty.

So, I concluded, we don't need no stinkin' secession either. It's virtually a done deal already.

We are an island in all but fact, and as far as 16th century Spain was concerned, we were an island in fact. "The Adventures of Esplandian" described "an island called California," a land of cliffs and mountains populated by women and ruled by a black Amazon queen whose air force of golden griffins — like the winged monkeys of Oz — attacked hapless men.

By the 20th century, we were a figurative "island on the land," splendidly isolated by imagination and geography. And geologically, if you believe disaster movies, one good shaker and California could snap off the continent like a saltine cracker.

Economically, we've struck out on our own too. Led by California, almost every one of the blue states is a federal tax-donor state. We send more tax money to Washington than Washington sends back to us, meaning the blue states are subsidizing the very red states — those capitals of rugged individualism like Alaska and North Dakota — that seem to loathe us.

Clearly, California, as the premier blue state, supposed bastion of liberalism, can pay more federal taxes because it is more prosperous. Why? Why does the Almighty allow this? Why do millions of us flourish — people that a right-wing ad reviled as "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving … body-piercing, Hollywood-loving" Californians.

For one, Californians believe in gravity, not to mention stem cell research. We don't stick science and innovation in the back seat while religion drives the car. For two, in a nation founded on taking risks, California still fervently practices what the rest of the country preaches. It welcomes the new and different. Wherever you are from, you too can grow up to become a Californian. And for three, your private life is private.

Once, I wrote about the leader of a California atheist group. A few weeks later came a letter from an Oklahoma woman. She had read my column. She and her husband were atheists too, but they didn't know any atheists in Oklahoma because they were afraid to talk about it, so could I put her in touch with this group? And did I think they'd send their literature in an unmarked envelope so the mailman wouldn't find out? I ask you, would any Californian you know give a rat's rump whether the mailman knew?

As I was writing this — amazing but true — I heard from state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer's office about what's called Project California. Short of snipping California's star out of the field of 50, his project is about taking the tiller of the state's future. We must, Lockyer says, "start thinking like a nation."

I'm with you, Bill. Just so long as that nation isn't, oh, France; our countrymen already think we're outré enough.


Patt Morrison's e-mail address is patt.morrison@ latimes.com.