Too bad to check: California secession movement leader lives in ... Russia?

Donald Trump’s stunning election win has some Californians so upset that they want to secede from the United States. A group calling itself Yes California has organized a petition drive for a referendum in the spring 2019 election to demand a convention of states to approve “Calexit,” which would recreate the Republic of California of 1850. Louis Marinelli writes that the movement “is about California taking its place in the world, standing as an equal among nations.”


Taking one’s place in the world is something Marinelli knows about, as the New York Times discovered. His place in the world isn’t California at all, but Yekaterinburg — deep in Russia:

This provincial Russian city, about 1,000 miles east of Moscow, is about as unlikely a place as any to find the leader of one of the more unlikely political causes to arise in opposition to President Trump. But Louis J. Marinelli, the 30-year-old English teacher who is the president of the Yes California movement, which seeks independence for the state, has decided to call it home.

Word of “Calexit,” a Quixotic idea that has floated around California for years, spread on social media after the election of Mr. Trump in November. Even though it has virtually no chance of succeeding — it would require an amendment to the Constitution — it has gained some traction in the state. Several technology industry leaders have voiced their support, and a ballot measure is in the works for the 2018 election.

Now with renewed attention on the movement, Mr. Marinelli is under scrutiny for living in a country that many in the United States see as an adversarial power.

That’s not the only reason Marinelli is getting scrutinized:

And back in California, he is on the defensive for accepting travel expenses and office space from a Kremlin-linked nationalist group. That acceptance has raised the prospect that Russia, after meddling in the election to try to tip the vote to Mr. Trump, as United States intelligence agencies have said, is now gleefully stoking divisions in America by backing a radical liberal movement.


There is no small measure of irony in this. One of the biggest complaints that progressives have with Trump is his supposed ties to Russia, which have been the subject of an FBI investigation that’s apparently going nowhere. Russia did hack the DNC and John Podesta in hopes of impacting the election, both the FBI and the CIA say, but neither have found any evidence of coordination between Trump and his campaign and Russian intelligence.

Instead, there seems to be at least some indirect connections between this progressive grassroots effort to split California from the US and Russia. The NYT notes that a state-funded Russian group called the Anti-Globalization Movement that backs a breakup of the United States offered Marinelli office space in Moscow for a Yes California “embassy,” which he then accepted. The Times report also suggests that the same or a similar group paid for hotel rooms for other secessionist groups in the US last September, including efforts in Texas, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

It’s a lunatic effort, and not just because of the Russian connections. In my column for The Week, I look at the nine reasons Yes California demands independence, and note that some of them almost directly contradict each other. If Californians want an off-ramp from an unfriendly Washington, I conclude, they’re focusing on the wrong parts of the Constitution:


Organizers lament that they cannot keep California’s “coal, oil, and natural gas” for the state’s own use, only to later argue that California has to lead the way on climate change by vastly reducing the use of those carbon-based energy sources. They complain about California schools being “among the worst in the nation” — as if the state government had nothing to do with that outcome. The petition also complains that California subsidizes the rest of the nation at the same time that the federal government has poured billions of dollars into a high-speed rail system that has barely progressed at all.

The more political arguments are equally ludicrous. They complain that California’s Electoral College votes “haven’t affected a presidential election since 1876.” Actually, Electoral College votes have an effect in every election, regardless of outcome, and California’s have more sway than any other state. Furthermore, the petition notes that Congress consists of “382 representatives and 98 senators we can’t vote for,” which can be said for California’s legislature by every one of its counties and cities, too. Unless the Republic of California is to be governed by referendum or dictator, the petition is basically complaining about the very nature of representative government that it uses for itself.

As political initiatives go, Calexit is more incoherent than most. But if only Marinelli and his cohort had delved a little more carefully into the Constitution, they might have found a better solution to concerns from states about an overbearing and politically hostile administration: federalism.

A return to the federalist principles of the U.S. Constitution would solve most of the complaints in the Calexit petition. Tired of federal interference in educational choices? Want more of California’s revenue to remain within California? Believe that the state’s land should be returned to the state, rather than controlled by bureaucrats a continent away? The solution to that is a return to the principles of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which could be codified in an Article V convention through a further amendment. If California wants better fiscal discipline — a rather amusing demand, considering its own budgetary history — it could join a nascent Article V movement demanding a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.


Instead, Marinelli and the Yes California crowd have duped some Golden State voters into a nonsensical secession effort instead. That just goes to show how far some progressives will go to avoid the conclusion that overpowerful central governments eventually make everyone’s lives miserable.

Update: I changed “deep in Asian Russia” to just “deep in Russia” for a more accurate description.

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