What Is Calexit? New California Independence Movement Willing to Negotiate With Trump

California sanctuary protest
A member of a group of protesters calling themselves the "Caravan Against Fear" wears a T-shirt during a rally next to the U.S. and Mexico border fence in San Ysidro, California, on April 18. Mike Blake/Reuters

The latest iteration of the so-called "Calexit" movement took its first formal steps Friday when organizers submitted a ballot measure that would amend the state's constitution to remove the word "inseparable" from the declaration that "California is an inseparable part of the United States of America." It is the second such push since November, when Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 30 points in California, the country's most populous state, but ultimately went on to win the Electoral College vote and the White House.

The latest campaign is a toned down version of the initial proposal, which was withdrawn last month when the leader of the campaign relocated to Russia. As well as removing the word "inseparable" from California's Constitution, it would add language pushing the state to become what supporters have called a "nation within a nation."

"It is the intent of the People of the State of California that California become a fully-functioning sovereign and autonomous nation, whether within continued association with the United States of America or as an independent country, peacefully through negotiation with the federal government of the United States," reads the proposal submitted by the California Freedom Coalition.

The group is led by Steve Gonzales, who says he decided to pursue the movement following Trump's victory. But Gonzales, who serves as secretary-treasurer and president of the coalition and describes himself as a "recovering Democrat," insists that the measure is about far more than just the current individual in the Oval Office.

"I think this year has demonstrated that our political system currently just doesn't work," he told Newsweek Monday. "We have a stolen SCOTUS seat, we have infinite amounts of money in politics. Donald Trump is a symptom, not the root cause, not the disease."

The latest polling on support for Californian independence, conducted at the end of March, showed just 32 percent in favor. But Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and professor at the University of Southern California, said there is little question that the movement is, understandably, attempting to capitalize on the widespread disapproval of Trump and policies that have been viewed as targeting Californians.

"My guess is what the Calexit movement is taking advantage of is the real anger out here, the real frustration out there, the real negative impact that many of the trump policies may have," she told Newsweek. "California knows it's in the crosshairs with regard to the Trump administration."

There is arguably unprecedented animosity between the president and California, on both sides. In an interview with Fox News in February, Trump said California was "in many ways out of control" over its proposal to become a so-called sanctuary state in opposition to federal immigration actions. Meanwhile at California's Democratic Party Convention this weekend, outgoing chair John Burton led the crowd in a call of "F*** Donald Trump," before sticking his middle finger in the air.

"I've never in my life seen anything so nasty as that at any state convention," Jeffe said.

Gonzales insists the new measure is not a case of independence or bust, but rather independence as "a last resort." The proposal lists three ways forward, beginning with "fundamental reforms to the American system of governance, including equal representation and an affirmative right of all adult citizens to vote."

"If Citizens United were overturned, if the Electoral College were abolished and the Voting Rights Act were restored, that would go a very, very long way," he said.

To get on the 2018 ballot, Gonzales and his team need to garner 585,000 valid signatures. Then comes the seemingly impossible part. Seceding the union would require the approval of two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as at least 38 state legislatures. While some Republicans, including Trump, who has repeatedly railed against the unfairness of the Electoral College, might welcome the exit of California and its 55 deep blue Electoral College votes, a true California republic is a long way off.

"If down the line the impact of the Trump administration becomes more negative on the ordinary Californian, the Calexit movement may offer a release of anger, of pressure, and there might be some movement," Jeffe said. "Today the arithmetic is not there and neither is public opinion."

The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!

The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017

Gonzales, however, said Trump's election suggests anything is possible.

"Eight months ago, if somebody asked you 'is it realistic that Trump would become president?' I would have said 'yes.' Do I think it's going to happen? 'No,'" he said. "I believe this is going to happen. The sure thing is, you'll never know unless you try."