California has recently made headlines for a proposal to split it into three states. But it’s by no means the first to put forward such a radical idea. Thirty other states have had at least one group campaign to secede from the mother state, although few managed to get the issue on a ballot.
New Jersey is one of the states that got as far as voting on the issue. If you’re hazy on the details — or weren’t around then — here’s what happened: In 1980, citizens of Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Ocean and Salem counties voted on a nonbinding referendum to make South Jersey the 51st state in the U.S., with Interstate 195 as its northern boundary. The proposal passed in each county except Ocean, winning 51 percent of the vote overall (180,663 to 174,151). However, the dream of a state united by pork rolls, hoagies and a love for Philadelphia sports soon died in the state Legislature.
The individuals who launched the South Jersey secessionist movement in the 1970s complained of an overinvolved government; they were also dissatisfied with insufficient representation in a Legislature they felt sought to advance the economy of northern New Jersey at the cost of southern reaches. The governor at the time, Democrat Brendan T. Byrne, dismissed them as a group of “rabble-rousers.”
Though the two-state proposal never got beyond that, comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert recently thrust the Garden State’s regional divide back into the spotlight as they investigated the questionable existence of Central Jersey. Can a three-state proposal be far behind?