On the first few days of the new year, Joe Lavender set up shop outside the Hiouchi Hamlet and told people how they could help create a new state — one of several recent examples of how the Jefferson state movement is picking up speed in Del Norte County.
Joe Lavender pushes the state of Jefferson proposal in Hiouchi: “Most things that are worthwhile are not easy.” Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Lavender wore a Jefferson state T-shirt and sat behind a concept for the 51st state flag, both adorned with a Jefferson state seal dating to 1941:
The circle symbolizes a gold pan representing the abundance of natural wealth in the region’s hills, natural resources that Jefferson state advocates expect to extract more of with statehood.
The two X’s signify how residents of these parts have been “double-crossed” and neglected by state capitals in Sacramento and Salem.
Most people who stopped by his table Friday were supportive, Lavender said, although some told him a new state will never happen. It would require the approval of the U.S. Congress and the legislatures of both California and Oregon.
“Most things that are worthwhile are not easy,” is Lavender’s response to the naysayers. “You’re not going to win the lottery unless you buy a ticket.”
Assumed support in Hiouchi
Lavender and other Jefferson state advocates lament the lack of representation that the sparsely populated regions of far Northern California and Southern Oregon have in their capitals.
Supporters of state separation are about as old as California and Oregon themselves, but ever since Mark Baird, a Yreka cargo plane pilot who also runs a cattle ranch and radio station, picked up the cause last summer, Jefferson has had new life.
Local supporters are working to get Del Norte County supervisors to pass a similar declaration here.
The Del Norte County Jefferson Declaration Committee launched its website (delnortejefferson.net) last week. In December, the Big Rock Community Services District, a special istrict for the township of Hiouchi, started a process aimed toward requesting that Del Norte supervisors pass a declaration supporting Jefferson or put the issue on the ballot this year.
Big Rock CSD sent out a survey with the November water bill (the district’s main operational function is providing public water) gauging Hiouchi residents’ feelings about Jefferson.
“We will assume a person supports the Jefferson State Initiative if a negative opinion is not submitted,” the survey states. Big Rock CSD board directors also visited homes to explain the survey, and board president Craig Bradford said only seven negative responses were received. The board will vote on the issue Jan. 16.
Bradford said several residents asked Big Rock CSD to address the Jefferson state issue and “I am here to represent my constituency.”
And representation is key.
“Awesome” in the U.S. Senate
There are a number of reasons that people support a separate state. California’s too big, some say. The power is lopsided, concentrated in the Bay Area and Southern California where people don’t understand the rural issues of Northern California. But the issue most frequently mentioned is representation.
More representation via a new state would equate to “more control over our lives,” said Aaron Funk, coordinator for the Del Norte County Jefferson Declaration Committee. Not just the ability to have more representation in Washington, D.C., but also the ability for Jeffersonians to be better represented in the state’s own capital somewhere yet to be determined.
Although Jeffersonians would have the same clout per capita as they currently do in the U.S. House of Representatives, “our power in the U.S. Senate will be nothing short of awesome,” states DelNorteJefferson.net. “We will have two U.S. Senators representing us in the Senate, with the same legislative clout as California, Texas or New York.”
What other benefits do Jefferson state advocates expect from becoming the country’s 51st?
“The California Coastal Commission would go away immediately,” Funk said, adding that the concept of the agency was “stellar” for protecting coastal resources and access. “It’s overreached those lofty goals. It is controlled by San Francisco and Los Angeles interests, and their interests are not our interests. Their coast is not our coast.”
Funk said that Jefferson state would create its own coastal watchdog that is more reflective of the realities here. The goal is not to “rape” the landscape, something Funk said the movement is accused of, but to utilize mining and foresting resources in an environmentally sensitive way that would still benefit local economies.
But most of the regulations that limit logging and mining are federal, and nobody is talking about seceding from the country.
As its own state, Funk said, the region could advocate for looser regulations on resource extraction. He said California laws currently add an extra burden of environmental regulation.
“There are over 540 agencies and departments in the state of California. I defy anyone to go through that list and pick more than 50, perhaps, that we really require here,” Funk said. “The most important thing is jobs — just getting Sacremento’s boot off of our economic back.”
Social media support
Supporters contend the idea is not as radical as it might sound. Kentucky, Vermont, Maine and West Virginia were all formed through a separation process outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Granted, the time it happened was 1863.
Jefferson state advocates also stress that they are not alone. In 1992, voters in 30 central and Northern California counties were asked if they would support dividing California into two states and 27 out of 30 were in favor. In Del Norte, the advisory vote was supported by 64 percent of voters. That initiative passed the California state Assembly, but ultimately died in the state Senate.
Today, supporters can use the power of the Internet to organize and mobilize ambitious youths.
Take Kayla Brown, 23, of Redding, who has become a leader of the movement in Shasta County.
“Our young people are so disenchanted with the American dream that they simply don’t give themselves the opportunity to hope that those in charge actually care what they think, what they have to say, or how they feel about an issue,” Brown wrote on the movement’s website.
Life after California
State prisons, state parks, state employees all represent details that will be negotiated in good faith, Jefferson supporters say.
Perhaps Jefferson state would run Pelican Bay State Prison for free for a number of years in exchange for the resource.
California is already losing money on its redwood state parks, Funk said, and Jefferson could take on the liabilities.
Employees of the state of California who suddenly found themselves residents of the new state could have their retirement contracts honored, and any layoffs could happen through attrition, Funk said.
“I served in the U.S. Army. I lost many friends in wars defending freedom, individual rights, and I see those rights consistently eroded by Big Brother,” Funk said. “While I understand the motivation for southern legislators to use their power locally to benefit their communities, often at our expense, I also understand that tells me there’s no other way out.”