Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Californias: The “real” California and the “real” America

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/16/09

If investment guru Jim Rogers is correct, and recently he has been, agriculture has a blissful future ahead, which should be good news for the states and provinces in the United States and Canada where farming thrives. But not so good for the investment communities which rose and flourished through the Reagan/Clinton period.

If wealth comes to the heartland the agricultural states should rise in relevance and status over the next 30 years. And Obama’s trillion-dollar public works program aside, the spent industrial wastelands he hopes to rebuild seem to lack specific function and purpose in days ahead. Which brings in a fairly spooky prospect: Those agrarian regions of North America which will prosper and flourish in the decades ahead will increasingly be called upon to support the urban idle and out of work.

And increasingly, there is alienation between city folk and country folk. The New York Times reports this weekend that farmers in California are moving to create a separate state.

“Those Hollywood types don’t have any idea what’s going on out here on the farms,” said Virgil Rogers, a retired dairyman from Visalia, in the Central Valley. “They think fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose.”

The final straw for folks was Proposition 2, the Times reports, a ballot measure in November that banned the tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows. While many food activists and politicians in the state hailed the vote as proof of consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from, the proposition’s passage has angry farmers and their allies wanting to put the issue of secession to a vote, perhaps as soon as 2012.

“We have to ask ourselves, Is there a better way to govern this state?” asked a former Republican member of the California Assembly, Bill Maze, president and a founder of the nonprofit group, Citizens for Saving California Farming Industries, which is spearheading the farmers secessionists’ efforts. Rogers, another co-founder, is chairman of the board.

Rogers and the others have proposed splitting off 13 counties on the state’s coast, leaving the remaining 45, mostly inland, counties as the “real” California. The people in those coastal counties, he told the Times, which include San Francisco and Los Angeles, simply do not understand what life is like in areas where the sea breezes do not reach.

It was suggested up here in 2007 that New Hampshire realign itself in a similar fashion. New Hampshire’s low tax profile draws many from across the border in Massachusetts. The problem is they bring Massachusetts with them. The separatists in the north said the influx has overwhelmed and destroyed the independent Yankee spirit of the mountain state, resulting in voting patterns and politicians like you would find in Massachusetts.

Similar sentiment could well arise in Virginia, between the northern regions like Fairfax County which is dominated by mostly out-of-town folk who work for the Washington, D.C. government industry, and the western part of the state which is rural and agricultural. Some in the rural and agricultural western parts of New York have also suggested separation from New York City. And visa versa.

Those former investment bankers in London and New York, Rogers likes to say, will soon be driving taxi cabs. “The farmers will be driving the Lamborghinis.”

If so, it could result in an increased alienation of the urban and agricultural regions; red and blue America, not unlike that which began during the Andrew Jackson administration when cultural sensibilities shifted from urban and Eastern to rural and Western, completely realigning politics and changing history.

Today California is a troubled state; 42 billion debt, rapidly losing population, and so ungovernable that there have been recent calls for a Constitutional Convention. It is still in denial about the depths of these issues and has not begun to seek solutions.

And as politicians have been saying recently, as goes California, so goes the country.