Utah lawmaker backs California secession to punish the state

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A Utah lawmaker who is no stranger to controversy is planning legislation calling on his fellow lawmakers to endorse a movement in California for that state to secede from the United States.

Utah Republican Rep. Paul Ray said in an interview Thursday that he does not want California to leave but is tired of the state's "far off to the left-extreme" political positions.

"I'm sick and tired of the whining we get from the state of California," said Ray, who is known in Utah for spearheading legislation two years ago permitting the state to use firing squads for executions if lethal injection drugs are not available.

Ray has started preparing a legislative resolution for Utah lawmakers to consider in their session next year that would give their symbolic stamp of approval for California to leave - plus a warning that if it does, Utah will impose tariffs and other penalties on California.

"We're all in this together. That's why it's a union. And if they don't want to play ball, then get out," Ray said.

A growing group of Californians have discussed secession following the election of President Donald Trump, starting a so-called "Calexit" campaign.

A group pushing the effort has begun collecting more than 585,000 signatures for its ballot initiative next year.

If the long-shot effort succeeds, California would form a commission to examine how it could pursue independence and delete parts of its state constitution saying California is an inseparable part of the U.S.

The initiative proposal also calls on California officials to negotiate more autonomy for the state.

Ray said he thinks California has tried to strong-arm other states to enact policies that the Democratic stronghold agrees with.

He cited California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's recent restrictions on state employee travel to Texas and three other states in response to laws he considers discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"What I would like to see them do is understand how state rights work and no state has the right to try to force another state to try to enact policies," Ray said.

Ray said his resolution will warn California that if the state secedes, Utah will impose tariffs on electricity that Utah plants supply power to Southern California and require it to pay for the right to use water that passes through the Utah, such as the Colorado River.

It's unclear if Utah lawmakers will back Ray's message but Utah's Republican governor won't give his support.

"It is generally not our policy to comment on legislation before we have seen its language, but we do not support the dissolution of the union," said Paul Edwards, a spokesman for Gov. Gary Herbert.

Anthony Reyes, a spokesman, for California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon declined to comment.

The president of the California group promoting secession said Ray's comments and his threat of tariffs is evidence of California's need for independence.

"There is an out of control attitude with Republicans in all of the states that they are aggressively against any kind of improvement in California," California Freedom Coalition President Steve Gonzalez said. "Now all of the sudden the red states don't want to allow state's rights. It's hypocrisy."


Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.