An Interview with Party Chair Michael Loebs
Question: Hello Michael. What’s your ‘day job’ and how did you get involved with the California National Party?
Michael Loebs: I’m a lecturer in the Political Science department at San Francisco State University, where I focus primarily on the development and breakdown of what’s generally called “Western” political thought. I got involved with the California National Party because I’m a native Californian concerned about the future of my home, and I believe California independence is both possible and necessary. I first came to the party in early 2016, became the Bay Area regional lead in 2017, was elected Northern California Chapter Coordinator in 2018, and was elected CNP chairperson after one of the party’s founders and former party chair Theo Slater stepped down in 2019.
How was the CNP platform developed?
The CNP platform is revised every two years by committees drawn from party membership. As our numbers expand into new regions, incorporating people with different ideas and values, the platform evolves accordingly. In general, I’d say the platform remains to the “left” of the United States somewhat, since California itself is in many ways to the left of the United States, although not to the extent and in the way many people seem to believe. (Personally, I believe dividing political and policy ideas into left vs. right / conservative vs. progressive is misguided and often counterproductive.) California is a complex place, and we seek to produce a platform that reflects that. We work to incorporate the interests of all the various geographic regions and economic, cultural, and political groups in California.
One of our major principles is that government decision-making should be as local as possible. Obviously, things like civil rights, environmental policy, and resource management need to be handled in a uniform manner throughout California, but many other things should be decided by representatives accountable to the people affected. We support greater regional, county, and local decision making, such as in areas like local gas taxes for funds dedicated to local transportation infrastructure projects as well as firearms regulation, because different parts of California have different needs on these issues. Our platform was developed pragmatically around what members believe will work best for the specific needs of Californians.
No party is ever going to produce a platform that even a small number of voters can agree with 100%. I’ve worked on the last two platforms and am chairperson of the party, and even I don’t agree with everything in the platform. But what’s important to me is that its creation is not based on ideology, but from a genuine attempt to produce policies based on our specific needs. This is an approach no other party in California is taking. Other parties simply tell Californians what they should want. My hope is the CNP can be a place where Californians can come to make known their actual concerns and potential solutions. As we gain more members, the platform will develop in interesting ways, and I think that’s a good thing.
What is the CNP strategy to achieve independence?
The CNP is dedicated to using only peaceful, democratic means, within the bounds of the Constitution of the United States. We believe a state leaving the United States with the consent of both parties is already recognized in constitutional law by Texas v. White and does not require an amendment. We do not seek to leave unilaterally as the Southern states did in the Civil War. We are exercising our rights as citizens and voters to effect changes in our society, which is what the democratic process is all about.
In terms of a specific game plan, the first electoral step would be a California-wide referendum indicating a public desire for independence. Until the people of California want this, it clearly should not happen. One of the primary jobs of the CNP is to show Californians how independence is ultimately in their interest, as well as in the interests of the United States and the world. To do that, we need to get Californians thinking about politics in a California-specific way. Both of the major parties in California are not specifically interested in us. Right now, we’re constantly bombarded with information about Washington, D.C. as if it were the center of our political world, while many of us hardly know what’s going on in Sacramento, or in our own neighborhoods.
So, the first thing the CNP needs to do is help build this distinct California identity—culturally, political, economically. None of that can happen if we keep thinking of ourselves as a mere sub-national unit. California is of global importance, whether we Californians or our elected representatives are willing to fully recognize that fact or not. California needs to start thinking about how to solve our problems, even before independence. Working together to do this will help cultivate that “California identity” which is the first necessary step to gain popular approval for independence. And for a lot of Californians, I think that California identity already exists in some form.
There are also many policies the CNP has that involve our relationship with the United States. Regionally, California should work with other states, especially west of the Plains, to get assurance from the federal government that we have ‘right of first refusal’ in the sale of federal lands within state boundaries. 45% of California is owned by the federal government and can be sold without our consent. Right of first refusal would allow us to purchase what is rightfully our own land and determine how we wish to use it. Ultimately the CNP wants all federal land to return to California control, with much of it used to double the land allotted to the First Nation tribes in our borders.
We would also work with the federal government to assume more duties for ourselves while reducing our tax obligations. We propose beginning this transfer of duties with the postal service and the Amtrak California rail and bus network while deducting the costs for this from our federal tax contribution. This would transfer responsibilities to California at a manageable pace while increasing the amount of our own tax revenue that stays here at home.
Once the people of California make it clear by a public vote that they desire independence, we believe it is the legal and moral duty of the United States to honor that decision. While people often think such a separation is impossible, many instances of nation dissolution have been peaceful and mutual. I believe it ultimately can be done in a way that serves the interests of all parties. Sadly, there have been voices in the California movement (sometimes by people that aren’t even Californians) that seek media attention through over-the-top, bombastic pronouncements, but the CNP has always viewed negotiated independence as the practical strategy.
What percentile of Californians would vote for independence, in your opinion?
One study put support for independence at about one-third of voters. Some people probably say they’ll support it to a survey taker, but they won’t put it into action. Others may desire independence but think it’s a fringe idea and won’t publicly support it. Many Californians I’ve met initially oppose it because it sounds impossible until they realize it’s something they’ve actually already thought about.
I think the present number of Californians who support independence is far below the majority of voters, but I don’t think this is that significant to the party now, since the CNP has a much broader scope. We are not an independence party; we are a pro-California party which believes that in the long-run independence is the best decision California can make for its own future.
Independence probably isn’t happening tomorrow. Until then, what we need is a party and a movement that brings Californians together, not separate them through ideological, economic, or ethnic divides. We can do this by supporting policies that bring benefits to all Californians, along with giving areas a greater role in resolving issues in ways that best serve them. As Californians see that we can solve our own problems, support for independence will grow.
Do you think California would thrive if it was an independent nation?
California is basically already a nation except in terms of political recognition. The technology developed here, our economic and cultural influence, these already make us globally significant. We’re one of the largest economies in the world, a center of the international film and music industry, as well as where a great deal of innovation has taken place for decades. Many other nations after independence begin in a much less desirable position.
What we lack is legal autonomy, the right to engage in our own international trade, secure access to our own tax revenue, and many other things that can only come with political independence.
What challenges does California face, if it was independent? What about the military?
California has myriad problems here at home that most Californians ignore in favor of American politics. Some of these problems—like PG&E or our outdated, baffling constitution—can be dealt with even before independence. However, in environmental issues, we’re largely at the mercy of the United States’ constantly shifting policy. All Californians, either living on the coast, in wildfire prone rural areas, or in the increasingly dry Central Valley, are affected by these environmental changes. To solve them, we need to work together as Californians, not talk past each other, in cooperation with the global community.
In terms of the military, it seems likely that even after independence the United States will maintain military bases in California for some time afterward. This is not necessarily a problem since many independent nations on Earth currently have an American military presence. This is simply a fact in the post-WWII global order. Many areas in California also currently rely on the military for economic stability, and until California organizes our own, purely defensive, military, we need to keep the needs of those areas in mind.
Are you a proponent of independence movements in Catalonia, Scotland, and other nations? Do you see the CNP aligning with those movements?
The CNP has had contact with independence movements in New England and Cascadia within the United States, and Scotland and Catalonia internationally. We have a podcast starting soon involving two members of the CNP’s leadership along with a representative of Cascadia. Many in the party are concerned for broad, global issues around independence movements. But as a party we don’t support all global independence movements just because they are independence movements. Our focus is on the needs of California, not a reshaping of the present global order, or even reshaping the United States.
I as an individual have long supported efforts in Scotland and Catalonia, but I’m more interested in and have more knowledge about California and that’s where all my energy is going to go.