Sun, May

An Open Letter to California’s Future Queen


MEDIA WATCH-To Your Unborn Royal Majesty,

Please forgive me for the protocol breach of writing you in utero.

But after watching your parents—Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—tell their Santa Barbara County neighbor Oprah Winfrey that you are expected this summer and will be biologically female, I’ve been thinking about what your arrival might mean for California.

We Californians, whether we realize it or not, need you. Because the next great start-up here must be our very own monarchy. And you would be the perfect person to serve as our very first queen.

Generally, I’m not a fan of monarchies, but many Californians are. In fact, alluring visions of monarchy are one of California’s most reliable economic exports. Burbank-based Disney is a factory of minting fictional princesses and princes far more animated and musical than any real-world royal. Your great-grandmother, the Queen of England, has no more loyal subject than the executives at Los Gatos-based Netflix, which distributes The Crown and gave your parents a production deal estimated at $100 million.

Unfortunately, Californians pay far more attention to these fictional monarchies, and other entertainments offered by our ruling technological and entertainment giants, than they do to the actual governance of our state and local communities. So, as I thought about your impending and historic birth, I began to wonder if introducing a queen might encourage Californians to follow government more closely, and even work to improve democracy here.

California suffers under America’s presidential system, which puts too much power in one chief executive. The core problem is that system forces that leader to combine two disparate roles: the head of state, who should represent and unify the whole country, and the head of government, who should handle the politics and policy. Other countries split these roles between a monarch and a prime minister, but the U.S. doesn’t, which means one autocratic California-hating president can effectively check or cancel the rights and democratic choices of 40 million Californians.

To protect our state against future Trumps, California is already asserting greater autonomy from the U.S. government in many policy areas; to reinforce that effort, we should also make the symbolic move of naming you as our monarch. You would be our unifying head of state, with only limited and ceremonial powers—like your great-grandmother in England—leaving the politics and government to our governor and legislature.

This would be more than just a powerful protest against excessive presidential and federal power, or a reminder to the rest of the U.S. that California has the size and wherewithal to pursue independence. A monarch might curb California’s own destructive tendencies, as well.

We Californians, whether we realize it or not, need you. Because the next great start-up here must be our very own monarchy. And you would be the perfect person to serve as our very first queen.

California governments focus obsessively on responses to immediate problems; a monarch, who serves for life and across many administrations, is a big-platform reminder of the long-term. California is dogged by our age’s excessive political partisanship; a monarch gives us a state leader who is non-partisan. California treats ballot initiatives like royal edicts that can’t be altered and end up ruling us for generations; perhaps the permanence of a royal family would give us the comfort to permit easier amendment of tax and spending measures like Prop 13 or Prop 98.

A monarch, by handling the pomp and circumstance of California affairs, would give our governors more time to focus on doing actual stuff. Our last three governors wasted considerable energy tending to their regal public personas when they should have been governing: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austro-Californian king of the box office; Jerry Brown, the callow princeling-turned-monarch/sage; and Gavin Newsom, with royal looks and a perhaps politically fatal weakness for the food and drink of Versailles.

You might ask why the Queen of California has to be you. Fair question. We certainly have no shortage of royals here: Queen Latifah, King James of Laker Nation, and the most benevolent of pop rulers, Beyoncé. But they are transplants—from Newark, New Jersey; Akron, Ohio; and Houston, Texas, respectively. California leaders, of course, can come from anywhere. But I think it’s best that the queen of a new monarchy be born in the land she rules.

Unlike your big brother Archie, born back in the U.K., you’ll be a native. Your parents, while deeply flawed, are perfect for the roles of Queen Mum and Queen Dad. You’ll be the child of an interracial woman from Los Angeles who worked in Hollywood, and of a member of the royal family with which Californians are most familiar. The fact that they were considered bad seeds in that British regime, and decided to flee, only makes them better Californians. We are often our families’ departed bad seeds.

Your father’s foreign citizenship means that you, like half of all California children, will have at least one immigrant parent. I also like the idea of you finding a way around the child labor laws so you can start some royal work at a young age—California might invest more in its children if they had more power. You could make it your mission to bring kids together, thus answering author Joan Didion’s still-stinging criticism of her home state: “Not much about California, on its own preferred terms, has encouraged its children to see themselves as connected to one another.”  

A monarchy like yours would be new, but it’s not without precedent. California was ruled by Spanish monarchs back in the 18th century. Queen Victoria and her descendants moved and married abroad with such ferocity that they now head all of Europe’s royal families.

The only real downside of making you queen is that other states might jealously follow suit. Texas would surely want its own sultan.

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Perhaps you don’t want all this, and you’ll lead a commoner’s life. Fine. But being the first queen of California could be a sweet gig. Your parents have already established a home base for you in magnificent Montecito. For a northern outpost, even you probably can’t afford the Bay Area—no one can—but you could take an apartment in Sacramento and then build a Balmoral-style retreat up in Modoc or Lassen County, where the locals share the Windsor family’s taste for hunting.

As for the name you take as queen, I have a suggestion. The name California comes from the story of Califia, a fictional queen ruling over an independent island of Black pagan women in Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s 16th-century epic, The Adventures of Esplandián. The poet probably took the name Califia from the Arabic khalifa, meaning religious state ruler. The queen’s island was called California.

So, let me be the first to say to you: God Save Queen Califia II! Your kingdom awaits.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square … where this piece was first posted.)