Backers of California Independence Are Coming to Parking Lot Near You

Has the student become the teacher?
Has the student become the teacher?

Signature gatherers seeking support for a California "autonomy" measure could be in grocery store parking lots by this weekend, organizers of the initiative say.

The effort was buoyed this week by the state Attorney General's approval of the measure's official title and summary. A green light for signature gathering was expected any day now. The "California Autonomy From Federal Government" initiative proposed by the California Freedom Coalition would ask voters to create a gubernatorial commission that would negotiate for greater autonomy and, possibly, full independence from the United States. Organizers would have to turn in 585,407 valid signatures by spring to make the November ballot.

According to the attorney general's summary, the initiative "repeals [the] provision in California Constitution stating California is an inseparable part of the United States." It would also direct the governor, "in consultation with those members of Congress who represent California, to negotiate continually greater autonomy from federal government, up to and including agreement establishing California as a fully independent country, provided voters agree to revise the California Constitution."

The initiative has already been endorsed by the California National Party. Attorney Theo Slater, the group's chair, is happy with the measure so far. "The party only wants to see complete independence, democratically and peacefully," he says. "We still need to get buy-in from our American friends and show them it's in their best interest as well."

It has its doubters, including law experts who say it's not legal under the United States Constitution for a state to secede. Longtime state political consultant Roger Salazar said via email, "I think California is better off leading by example than leaving by example."

What's more, there might be competition for organizers of the measure, the California Freedom Coalition. A rival nonprofit, Yes California, plans to file its own initiative paperwork in "the near future," organizer Marcus Ruiz Evans said via email. "We just want to do something that no one else is doing but that advances California leaving America," he said.

"The Yes California Facebook page has the biggest collection of Calexit supporters anywhere," Ruiz added.

The efforts, sometimes to referred to generically as Calexit, will face a steep fundraising hurdle. Experts say it often costs about $3 million, sometimes more, to hire the kind of professional signature-gathering operation it takes to turn in so many valid endorsements. Success without professional signature-gathering is very rare.

The California Secretary of State's fundraising records have not yet been updated to reveal the California Freedom Coalition's cash intake. The group's most vocal board member, Steve Gonzales, wouldn't reveal the amount. He did say that it is focusing on both grassroots fundraising — it has a GoFundMe page — as well as big-money donors.

"We have gotten some seed money," he says. "We will be doing grassroots signature-gathering as early as this weekend."

Unlike a previous Calexit attempt that aimed, perhaps quixotically, at an all-volunteer signature-gathering effort, Gonzales says his coalition will ultimately hire professionals to walk those parking lots. "We've focused in the last three months on building a ground infrastructure to monitor signature gathering," he says.

Slater of the California National Party says that while the measure has attracted "a few big-fish donors," fundraising is "their biggest obstacle" right now.

"We feel like we have a good ground game," Gonzeles says. "We're not trying to antagonize the rest of the U.S., but this is what we feel is best for Californians."


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