ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:
At a time when partisan politics are so divisive that the federal government seems incapable of averting a government default, polarization of state political parties could literally tear states apart.
Disgruntled voters in both California and Arizona are trying to secede from their respective states to escape state governments that they say are on a fast-track in the wrong direction.
In California, a state ruled by Democrats, 13 southern and mostly Republican counties are petitioning to create their own state.
“Onerous regulations on business” that are driving jobs out of the state and the California legislature’s attempts to balance the budget by “stealing” tax revenue from local governments are two reason why Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said he is pushing for secession.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to hold a meeting in late September of representatives from every city and county in California to decide if their grievances can be solved without secession.
If not, the group will hammer out the details of creating a new state.
“Obviously I touched a nerve that is felt not only among Californians but among people around the country who feel their voices are not being heard,” Stone said. “I’m hoping that the nerve that I touch with a lot of citizens will resonate and we will see dramatic changes in the way we do business in the state and the way we do business in this country.”
The break-away counties include about 13 million people or about a third of California’s population. In order to secede they have to first get approval from the California legislature, which is totally controlled by Democrats, then create a constitution and petition the U.S. Congress to approve their statehood.
Despite the obvious obstacle of getting the Democrats who control the state Senate and Assembly on board with his plan, Stone said secession “is not impossible.”
“Is it challenging? No question about it. When the citizens get mad they can do some pretty extraordinary things. No one thought we could recall a governor, but you know what we did it,” Stone said, referring to the 2003 recall election in which voters replaced Democratic Gov. Gray Davis with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Arizona, a conservative state, the parties are reversed, but the story is similar.
The Grand Canyon State has been inching farther to the right with policies like their immigration law which requires all immigrants to carry proof that they are in the country legally. The law also instructs police to verify people’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if they suspect the person could be in Arizona illegally.
“Over the last two years things have gotten really bad in Arizona,” said Paul Eckerstrom, who is leading the secession effort in Tucson, Arizona. “Our economic future is very very bleak especially with our education system being degraded like it is and that’s ultimately why were doing this. We want it to be different.”
Eckerstrom and the Start Our State political committee is trying to collect enough signatures to put a measure on the November 2012 ballot allowing Pima County to petition both the state legislature and U.S. Congress to create the new state of Baja Arizona.
“We felt if we could get on the ballot and have this vote… it sends a huge message not only to the legislature, and not only to the voters of Arizona, but it sends a huge message to the rest of the country that not everybody in the state is ideological and crazy,” Eckerstrom said.
Eckerstrom blamed the sudden upsurge in talk of secession on politics shifting from being solution driven to being ideologically driven.
Policy is no longer about working toward practical solutions for people. It’s working toward ideological positions and people are so entrenched in that they won’t even consider another path to get something done,” he said. “No one thinks in concrete terms. They think in ideological white towers.”
While numerous groups have tried to create a break-away state in the past, you have to go all the way back to the Civil War to find a group that was successful.
When Virginia decided to join the Confederacy in 1863, West Virginia seceded and created a new state in order to stay in the Union.
A state break-up happened only one other time in U.S. history when Maine gained independence from Massachusetts as a part of the Missouri Compromise in 1820.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry took talk of secession even farther in 2009 when he implied that Texas may consider leaving the union.
At Tea Party rally where supporters waved U.S. flags chanted “Secede,” Perry alluded that his state may revert back to its independent roots because Texans are so fed up with federal policies and regulations.
“Texas is a unique place. When we came in the Union in 1845 one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that,” Perry told reporters at the April 2009 rally. “We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?”