After success in Siskiyou, leaders seek other counties
After receiving support from Siskiyou County supervisors, the leader of the group spearheading the latest attempt to create a state of Jefferson says he hopes to bring the matter before Del Norte County's elected officials.
"Half of our friends and neighbors live there," said Mark Baird, spokesman for the Jefferson Declaration Committee, whose resolution received a favorable 4-1 vote from the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. "We're very close culturally, and in addition to that Del Norte has a sea port, which a state would need. It's contiguous with the Oregon border and it's within the historic confines within the state of Jefferson."
But Del Norte supervisors Roger Gitlin and David Finigan say the effort is unrealistic, although they sympathize with Siskiyou County's frustrations with the state government. Supervisors Mike Sullivan and Gerry Hemmingsen, however, say they are neither for nor against the latest effort to create a new state and that it would be a discussion they'd like to have.
District 2 Supervisor Martha McClure could not be reached Wednesday.
Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson says withdrawing from California to create a new state should be considered.
"Your duty and responsibility as a county is to do what's best for your community and move in a direction that's healthy; to be able to provide for our county in the best way we possibly can," Wilson said. "If you feel that your ability to do that is being thwarted or hampered by the current California state government, then yeah, I think you have to realistically look at that."
Lack of representation
Siskiyou's move to attempt to withdraw from California cites a lack of representation for "rural and frontier counties" on issues including the fire-protection fee - a $150 fee imposed on rural residents statewide to pay for fire-prevention efforts - as well as "assaults upon Second Amendment rights."
The resolution also mentions the state executive branch's attempt to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River over objections from county residents and elected officials. The resolution also cites a 1992 effort where 27 counties voted in favor of splitting from California.
Siskiyou's board chairman, Ed Valenzuela cast the sole vote against the declaration on Tuesday, saying he signed on to "work within the system I know," according to the Redding Record Searchlight.
The U.S. Constitution allows for the formation of new states, but land can't be taken from existing states without the consent of the state and federal governments. This would require a simple majority from legislative bodies at both levels, Baird said.
The only way for the Jefferson Declaration Committee to be successful is if other counties support its efforts and become involved, Baird said. Similar groups have sprung up in Tehama and Shasta counties and one is forming in Butte County, he said.
The declaration committee is scheduled to appear before the Modoc Board of Supervisors on Sept. 23, Baird said. Support for the group's efforts has come from as far away as San Bernardino County and Riverside County, the birthplace of an effort two years ago to break off with other conservative counties and create the state of South California. But the Siskiyou committee is sticking to the state of Jefferson's historic boundaries as defined in 1941, Baird said.
Baird said he has already spoken to Wilson about getting a grass-roots effort going in Del Norte. Folks who sign on will have to get a draft a declaration, get it to the county clerk's office for inclusion on the Board of Supervisors' agenda and get people to show up to the meeting in support, he said.
"The whole process only takes two or three people," Baird said. "We have all the information on the declaration at Jeffersondeclaration.net. There are sample statements of support and all that on the website."
Some local skeptics
Finigan, who is currently president of the California State Association of Counties, an organization made up of supervisors from the 58 counties, said he would likely not support a renewed effort to create a new state. He questioned the economic viability of such an effort as well as the issue of how the current effort will affect Siskiyou County's representation in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
"I think unfortunately you have to work within the process we're given and through our elected representatives," Finigan said.
As CSAC president, Finigan said he has been trying to create coalitions with representatives from urban and suburban counties so they understand the plight of rural counties. He added that he would talk with the CSAC representative for Siskiyou County about the issue at a meeting today.
Although he said he is frustrated with over-governance in Sacramento, Gitlin said he doesn't think withdrawing from California is the answer.
"I don't think it's an answer to secede from the state at this time," he said. "Now, am I happy with the condition in Sacramento? Clearly not. We have too much over-government and it impedes us. But to go to a Jefferson State mentality and revert to a state of 1941 - it'd be the smallest state (by) population."
Hemmingsen and Sullivan said they would be open to discussing the issue at a future Board of Supervisors meeting, noting that Del Norte's problems are not the same as those in Southern and Central California.
"We get ignored way too often and are expected to follow rules that don't apply to us," Sullivan said. "Our big issue as a county is the National Recreation Area. The federal government, they own 70 percent of the land in Del Norte, which is also our tax base. That's why we're so government-dependent."
Not the first time
Wilson, who in the past has opposed efforts to remove dams on the Klamath River, said he knows of several people who are in favor of creating a state of Jefferson, but he hasn't talked with those individuals about the new effort yet. He said one or two local individuals have spoken about the Siskiyou group's efforts, but haven't taken steps to create a local declaration to withdraw.
But, Wilson pointed out, a large number of Del Norte residents receive federal and state benefits.
"It's not just we want to leave and we're going to, it doesn't work that way," Wilson said. "But we have a lot of things (Central and Southern California) want, primarily our water. Would (we get) federal representation under a new-formed state? Will it give us a voice? Will it be more fair to the type of agrarian society that exists in the upper north?"
The effort to create a state of Jefferson dates back to 1941 when the mayor of Port Orford, Ore., called on counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California to form a new state. The goal was to raise attention to the region's poor roads, according to the Associated Press.
The movement became popular, especially in Siskiyou County, due to frustrations that the interests of rural counties were overshadowed by California's urban centers. It was shelved after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into the war.
Another effort to create a new state is afoot in Colorado, where residents in at least three counties are expected to vote on the issue.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .