But would Democrats in Congress back a plan likely to add two more GOP senators?
Jefferson state advocates will tell you America’s founding fathers anticipated a need for states to divide — why else would they include the option in the Constitution?
“The founders must have foreseen some need for this,” said Mark Baird, a Yreka airline pilot and one of the founders of the most recent movement to form a new state out of several northern California counties and possibly some from southern Oregon.
Using the Constitution as his handbook, Baird said the process to create the new state could be surprisingly simple. Just read Article IV Section 3:
“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”
While admitting that there has been no precedent for forming new states out of existing ones for 150 years, Baird does not believe that it would require more than a simple majority from both houses of the California state legislature and U.S. Congress and it would not require the governor or the president’s signature.
“It’s not legislation per se but a simple permission to split,” Baird said. “I’m sure that people opposed will come up with ways that are more difficult or onerous but you read the amendment itself and it’s very simple.”
And who might those opponents be?
“Establishment politicians because they don’t want to alter the status quo,” Baird said.
Since most counties that lie in the likely state lines of Jefferson are politically red with strong libertarian sentiment, the likely opponents might include Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C., not interested in bolstering the other side with two additional U.S. senators.
During a recent visit to Del Norte, Democratic Congressman Jared Huffman said that while he understands the frustrations of rural counties in California, including his North Coast district, he does not believe that a new state is the answer.
Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa, has publicly supported the idea. He represents the two California counties, Siskiyou and Modoc, where supervisors have already voted in support of it.
Baird insists, however, that Jefferson state is a bipartisan issue with supporters identifying with both Democrats and Republicans.
“We don’t fight like that in the north state. We usually have arguments over issues, not political parties,” Baird said. “I don’t even ask people what their party is — I don’t care.”
With the latest manifestation of the Jefferson movement in its infancy, no active opposition has formed. That’s bound to come at some point.
A recent Los Angeles Times article noted that the four northernmost counties in California receive a lot more from the state government than they pay into it.
The Del Norte Unified School District is already asking for public comment on how to spend the additional state money expected in coming years as a result of California changing its formula for education funding to favor poorer districts.
Baird said he doesn’t see the benefits of being part of California’s public education system, with too much money going to fund union demands and retirement plans.
“We would propose a charter school system where money is more effectively spent; less expensive with a better result,” Baird said.
The last state carved from an existing one was West Virginia, created in 1863. The primary driver behind that movement was western Virginian counties’ opposition to secession from the Union. Instead of the Confederate state government of Virginia voting to allow West Virginia to separate, it was the legislature of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, which consisted of elected officials who had remained loyal to the Union.
The state of Jefferson is not being lobbied for against the backdrop of civil war, but more of a culture and lifestyle clash between urban centers of the Bay Area and Southern California and the wide open spaces of most counties north of Sacramento.
There is a sense of urgency, however, as Baird said that Jeffersonians cannot afford to take on much more of California’s quickly growing debt.
A new state of Jefferson would willingly, however, take on a per capita percentage of California’s current debt of roughly $420 billion, Baird said.
“There’ no escaping that and that’s the honorable thing to do,” Baird said.
On top of debt, it’s also only fair, Baird said, that a new state would also inherit the state assets that lie in the state of Jefferson.
“As the citizens and taxpayers that have paid for that stuff we’re entitled to certain assets and I think the assets that we’d be entitled to would be the assets that lie in our borders,” Baird said.
The proponents are looking to limit the push to California for now, so that approval from the Oregon legislature is not required. But they encourage places like Curry, Josephine and Jackson counties to advocate in their own state and join later.
The task ahead for Jefferson advocates is to educate the rest of California as to why they in fact would be better off divorced, Baird said.
There are fisheries, forestry, and farming issues that are foreign to Southern Californians and “they would be better off” without having to deal with them, Baird said. “They could concentrate on issues that we don’t even know about or understand.”
At least some people in urban California agree that the nation’s most populous state needs dicing.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper recently announced plans for a ballot initiative to split California into six states.
Baird points out that a state-splitting ballot initiative gained support in 1992, but it didn’t go anywhere, so he’s more interested in getting the state legislature to actually take a vote.
Still, Baird concedes:
“I think the fact that a billionaire is making recognition that we lack representation doesn’t hurt — that’s gotta help us.”