New-state advocate Mark Baird and others seek Del Norte County’s support
A town hall meeting hosted by the Del Norte County State of Jefferson Declaration Committee drew more than 300 people, who filled nearly every seat and stood along the edges of the room at the county fairgrounds. They punctuated Baird’s comments with raucous applause and the occasional shout of approval. Many also purchased sweat shirts, bumper stickers and flags emblazoned with the “Great Seal of the State of Jefferson.”
The audience included county elected officials and staff, as well as members of the Crescent City Council. During a question-and-answer period, queries were made about how prisons and schools would be funded, how water rights would be affected and exactly what the state boundaries would be.
Baird and fellow speakers Terry Rapoza and Robert Smith from Shasta County acknowledged they didn’t know all the answers. But, they said, counties would have control over their natural resources because there would be fewer regulations, fewer state agencies and a part-time legislature.
“I can’t tell you dollars and cents that you personally are going to be better off,” Baird said. “We don’t know how many counties are going to join; we don’t know what the state is going to look like until we find out how many counties are going to join.”
Three counties so far
So far, Siskiyou, Modoc and Glenn counties have approved declarations to withdraw from California. Tehama County supervisors decided last month to allow voters to weigh in on the issue in June.
A Board of Supervisors vote on a declaration to withdraw from California is a petition, Baird said, and would cost the county nothing. If Del Norte supervisors don’t support the resolution, Baird said he and other advocates would move on to other counties.
Once the declaration resolutions have been collected, Jefferson advocates would submit them to the Legislature, Baird said, adding he hoped an assemblyman and a state senator would be willing to read the declaration into the legislative record.
From there, a simple majority vote in both state houses would be needed to move the proposal to the U.S. Congress, where majority approval would also be required. Creating Jefferson would not require a signature from California’s governor or the president, he said, citing the U.S. Constitution.
A second strategy
If California lawmakers don’t approve the Jefferson state declaration, advocates can still fight for adequate representation by challenging a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case, Reynolds v. Sims,, Baird said.
“To have a federal attack on a Supreme Court decision we have to have standing,” he said. “If California lets us withdraw, there is no federal challenge. If we take the declarations from 10 counties or whatever it ends up being and present those and ask for legislation and the Legislature in California ignores us, then the counties who have asked for this withdrawal have standing. Harm has been committed. They were ignored and denied representation.”
In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires that legislative districts across states be equal in population. The case challenged redistricting schemes in Alabama, which in 1964 still reflected population levels from the 1900 census, according to a PBS.org presentation on Supreme Court history.
Prior to 1964, each county in California had its own state senator, Baird said. If a case challenge was successful, California would return to a pre-1964 representative model, he said.
“That would be an incredibly positive step, and then from there we would be free to decide whether we needed to proceed (with Jefferson state) or not,” Baird said, adding that representation in the state Assembly would still be population-based.
Enough for basic services?
During the question-answer session, Supervisor Mike Sullivan asked Baird how the Jefferson state movement would affect projects and services that are funded by the state, as well as the county’s ability to provide basic services.
“The question would be do we have enough to provide the basic law enforcement, basic services within the county for the residents?” Sullivan asked, adding that according to the county auditor Del Norte County generates about $32 million in property tax, income tax, fire prevention and other fees. “At least do we have enough for basic services based on what’s generated here regardless of what the rest of the state of Jefferson does. Does Del Norte have enough here?”
Better political representation would put Del Norte County in a better situation to receive federal funding, Baird said.
“I say yes, we have plenty of money to cover basic services,” Baird said. “We’re working up those budgetary numbers for you right now. I can’t tell you the dollars and cents, but my answer in the short term is absolutely yes, because if we eliminate state police, if we eliminate Caltrans, if we allocate those moneys to counties, basic services are covered.”
Supervisors Gerry Hemmingsen and Roger Gitlin also attended. A Board of Supervisors workshop has been scheduled for Feb. 27. Baird won’t be able to attend, according to the local declaration committee. County officials are expected to present their findings at that workshop.