You've heard this before: If California were suddenly its own country, its $2.3 trillion GDP would make it the eighth biggest economy in the world—just below Brazil and above Italy. Well, now a political party gunning for legitimacy in California has turned that hypothetical into its entire political platform.
"Our dream is to have California become its own country separate from the United States," said Louis Marinelli, one of the founders of the California National Party who is currently campaigning to be a representative for California's 80th State Assembly district, which includes much of San Diego. "We think the country system is broken, and we don't feel that our future is best if we remain in that system."
The name of the party is "inspired by the Scottish National Party," Marinelli told VICE in an interview, referring to the dominant political party in Scotland. "We would like to follow their footsteps," he added. The California party is an offshoot of a campaign called Yes California, a nod to Yes Scotland, the unsuccessful campaign in support of a "Yes" vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
The Scottish National Party (SNP)—unlike many nationalist groups, including its far-right British counterpart, the BNP—has a mostly leftist, though still fairly mainstream, ideology. However, Marinelli, who refers to himself as a "quasi-democrat who happens to support independence," has no such ideological agenda. "If you think California has what it takes to be an independent country, and that we should do that," he said, "welcome to the party."
California has made overtures toward officially recognizing the CNP. Last month, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla asked all of the state's counties to monitor the number of CNP registrations, although because that data hasn't come in yet, the party's actual popularity is still unknown. Sam Mahood, a spokesperson for the California Secretary of State, told VICE in an email that the CNP is still without the full privileges of a political party, and as such, is "not qualified to participate in the June 7, 2016 presidential primary election."
The process of earning recognition as a party involves establishing a platform and endorsing bills in Sacramento in order to "make friends," Mike Ross, a career lobbyist who works as CNP's political strategist and legislative liaison, told VICE. As Ross tells it, the creation of a new political party is routine: "You show up and testify. You talk to some legislators and that's it," he said. The CNP, he added, is "just wading into the shallow end of the pool."
As for the party's funding, there isn't much yet, according to Theo Slater, general counsel for the CNP. "We have not had many expenses so far, but we have begun to do some targeted spending." Slater said in an email. He added: "We have some basic infrastructure such as banners and signs."
Marinelli's ambitions as an assemblyman are relatively modest. In fact, he says people have the wrong idea about him and his separatist cause. "They say, 'You're gonna go to Sacramento and you're gonna declare independence!' But that's not the way it legally works," he explained.
Separatist views aside, Marinelli is just a 29-year-old moderate liberal from Buffalo, New York, who says he used to be "the conservative poster boy American patriotic citizen." Since he's not a native Californian, he considers himself an immigrant to the state, and professes a love for the diversity of cultures and languages in his adopted home. His pet issue is criminal justice reform, and he says as an assemblyman he would "go to Sacramento and take on police unions."
Marinelli is confident that his separatist cause will have allies in the remaining 49 states, and he says his previous background as a Fox News viewer gives him some insight. "If you look at public opinion of California, it's the least liked and respected state in the country." Congress, he explained, has 54 representatives and two senators pushing the agenda of Californians, a group that he feels is culturally and ideologically distinct from the United States.
"A lot of Americans would be willing to allow California to leave the country, and I don't think it would hurt them altogether, because it would make the country more governable," Marinelli said.
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