Does California “act” more like a Nation than a State.

A review of recent academic studies and professional commentary

Marcus Ruiz Evans
8 min readDec 12, 2019

Recently there has been much discussion in the news about California and its Air Quality standards. Does it have the right to set its own emissions standards independent from the Federal government? Does it have the right to establish its own insurance standards? This follows on California appearing to set its own drug enforcement policies with allowing legalized Cannabis. Which follows on California seeming to establish its own immigration policy with a proposal to not work with Federal authorities on immigration. Which follows California exploring following its own path on Labor laws, Employee arbitration, Internet privacy, and even National defense procedures.

What is the limit of California’s ability to act like a Nation.

What are the Federal limits on what researchers call “Asymmetrical Federalism” or what is commonly referred to in the news as simply a “legal gray area

In 1947 California established the “McBride-Grunsky Insurance Regulatory Act” that “effectively exempted insurers from federal regulatory legislation”. In 1967 California accepted the “Air Quality Act of 1967 National Air Emission Standards Act P.L. 90–148” Section 208 (b)” that allows California to set its own car standards.

Since that time there has been almost no discussion about California acting on its own independent from Federal regulations, until a small article in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1993. From there we have to wait until 2007, when the first reporter with a background in international news talks about how California could be a nation because it already has such international presence. The next year 2008, brings the very first academic study on how California acts more like a nation than a state.

However, 2017 seems to be the year that Academic level/ serious discussion about California acting differently than the average state takes off, with 4 different academics discussing the subject. In 2018, there were 3 new academics discussing this concept and in 2019, there were 5 different academics (more THAN EVER) investigating how California seems like a nation or might be better off as a nation or pursuing more independent policy stances from the Federal government.

The timeline below shows an interested in this topic going back almost 30 years, but that the inquisitiveness by California “thought professionals” explodes in 2017 and maintains its increased focus since that year.

Masters Degree from UC Berkeley — Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland Gar Alperovitz
2007 — “California Split”
“SOMETHING interesting is happening in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have grasped the essential truth that no nation — not even the United States — can be managed successfully from the center once it reaches a certain scale. Moreover, the bold proposals that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now making for everything from universal health care to global warming point to the kind of decentralization of power which, once started, could easily shake up America’s fundamental political structure.”

Stanford University Professor of Law Bernadette A. Meyler
2008 — “Like a Nation state” “Using California’s self-consciously internationalist approach to climate change regulation as a primary example, this Article examines constitutional limitations on state foreign affairs activities”

Political journalist based in San Francisco Steven Hill
2011 — “Why California should quit the ‘dollar zone’”
“Here’s one solution for the economy: California should abandon use of the dollar and exit the American monetary union.”

Professor Director and Chair of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate USC Richard Green
2012 — “Paul Krugman essentially invites the question: should California secede?”
“In his column this morning, Paul Krugman discusses a recent Times article that shows that the reddest states receive more of their personal income from government programs than blue states. An implication of this is that places such as California would be better off fiscally by seceding from the union (my colleague Lisa Schweitzer shows that California gets less than its fair share of the gasoline tax as well).”

Professor at Annenberg school of Communication USC Geoffrey Cowan & Dean UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Orville Schell
2014 — “A Vital Partnership: California and China Collaborating on Clean Energy and Combating Climate Change” by Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and the Asia Society Northern California Center “California has helped to create something of a state model for subnational international cooperation on climate change and energy issues “

Board member at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Markos Kounalakis
2016 — “How to establish California’s foreign policy”
“By nearly any measure California would be a formidable nation: Not every future governor is guaranteed to articulate California’s outsized voice on global issues or throw around the state’s disproportionate weight in foreign negotiations. ”

Stanford University economics professor Michael J. Boskin
2017 — “Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces on Economic Areas” “Even in countries long know for stability, there is a clear tension between centralized and decentralized political authority. For example, a group
called Calexit is trying to introduce a California ballot proposition to secede from the US. According to early polls — 1/3 of Californians would support such an initiative”

Professor and lecturer at UCSC & CSUMB Chris Hables Gray
2017 — Comment: It is called self-determination. People have a right to chose their government. So of course I support the right for states to become independent. It should happen through democratic means”

Dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky
2017 — Comment: “In theory, because it was a majority vote of Congress to admit California, in theory a majority vote of Congress could approve secession.”

Executive editor The American Mind at Claremont Institute at Claremont University James Poulos
2017 — “California Really Has What It Takes to Secede”
“For California, however — approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world — independence wouldn’t necessarily bring economic hardship.”

Senior Resident Scholar Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley Thomas Mann

2017 — One nation after Trump
“America’s political system was created for a country with a more even distribution of the rural and urban population, says journalist E.J. Dionne, who co-authored One Nation After Trump with Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Thomas Mann, a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Professor at the University of San Francisco William Riggs
2019 — Comment: “In that sense, he believes that the dialogues that have raised a “ Calexit” pose a “possible, but highly improbable” scenario. Among the costs of that decision are the minting of currency, the establishment of an army”

Distinguished Professor of Political Science UCI Bernard Grofman
2019 — “What if California seceded from the US?“Polarisation in Congress is at levels we have not seen in more than 100 years.”

Lecturer Department of English and comparative literature SJSU Daniel Hendel De La O
2019 — Reflection 4: #calexit — Life in the Independent Republic of California
“For many, an independent nation of California has long been a dream. That dream inched a little closer to reality with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.”

Director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab USC Jonathan Taplin
2019 — Comment: “It’s a good thing California’s finances are in good shape, because we can expect no help or guidance from the federal government, even if a progressive wins the White House. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, “By 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” In other words, the Senate could well be controlled by a conservative minority for years to come, one that would be resistant to providing any aid to progressive states like California. Californians will have to chart our own future.”

Associate Professor for International Studies Humbolt University Alison Holmes
2019 — “California as a Nation-State: Innovative or Inevitable”
2019 —
“New globalism: an open letter to California’s new governor”
“California was already a global actor but had not embraced its position or lived up to its potential.”

Mentions — these people didn’t write seriously about how California acts more like a nation state, but they were high profile people who made the suggestion:

October 2006
California elected official “Jackie Speier” talks about California should break off from Federal government because of financial abuse by the Federal system. “Speier calls President Bush to pay 65 bilion tab”

January 2005
LA Weekly prints article that suggests California is a separate nation from America.
“My turn toward the idea that California should secede from the Union was based on some bedrock logic that my father used to admonish me with as he suspiciously eyed my derelict teenage friends: You can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps. When I was arguing the merits of seceding recently, a friend finally said, “But, but, we live in America.” I thought — we do? I live in California. I sometimes visit other places in America, but not that much anymore. “ “Leaving Home, in defense of secession” by Joe Donnelly

November 2004
Pulitzer Prize winner Patt Morrison writes article proposing CA secession. “It at first you don’t secede..”



Marcus Ruiz Evans

President Yes California/ Calexit movement. Interviewed by Politico, New York Times, FOX, WashPost, LA Times, LA Weekly, Sac Bee, Daily Show w/TN, Mother Jones