Opponents dispute whether representation is lacking and if forming a new state would help

Four weeks from today, Del Norte will head to the polls and provide direction to county supervisors: Should they support a proposal to separate from California and form the state of Jefferson andhellip;or not?

Proponents of the recent movement say a yes vote on an advisory measure that will appear on the local June 3 ballot is the first step to ensuring better political representation for Del Norte County. It doesn't separate Del Norte County from California, but, they say, voting yes on Measure A - and subsequent support from the Board of Supervisors - ensures Del Norte will continue to have a place at the table as the effort gains steam.

Those encouraging a "no" vote on Measure A say Jefferson state advocates haven't given voters all the information necessary to make an educated decision. The financial impact to Del Norte County if the movement succeeds could be potentially devastating, they warn. The proof, they say, lies in the fact that the state of California provides Del Norte more in services than is generated through local taxes.

Proponents admit they don't know what the financial impacts of forming a new state will be. But those questions may remain unanswered for Del Norte if voters decide against Measure A, they argue.

"No answers are available until the potential state of Jefferson is created and recognized," said Aaron Funk, county coordinator for the Del Norte County State of Jefferson Declaration Committee. "Do we have 12 counties or 20 counties? What counties are they? A composite of all their economies and of their tax base is what's going to matter, and that can't be guessed."

Burgeoning movement

The local Jefferson state movement picked up speed at the dawn of the new year, shortly after Siskiyou and Modoc counties late last year approved declarations to withdraw from California. Members of the Del Norte County State of Jefferson Declaration Committee sat outside local businesses drumming up support. They went before the Board of Supervisors four times in January and February with nearly 2,000 signatures encouraging elected officials to vote on a similar declaration to withdraw.

Finally on Feb. 25, county

supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of an

advisory measure for the June 3 primary ballot. Their decision mirrored that of Tehama County supervisors, who also decided to put the issue to a vote of their constituents.

Yuba County is the latest to sign on to the Jefferson movement, with its Board of Supervisors voting 3-1 last month in support of a declaration to withdraw from California. There are Jefferson declaration committees in 20 counties so far, according to Funk.

Money matters

Two days after the Board's decision to approve an advisory vote, Del Norte County officials crunched the numbers. More than $34 million of Del Norte's budget comes from state funding, according to the county's report.

Del Norte receives roughly $14.13 million in federal funding. Approximately $2.71 million of which is filtered through the state and pays for specific programs and grants, according to County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, but those state-filtered funds could still come to the county through a Jefferson government, Funk said.

About $16.68 million is generated through local property and sales taxes, Sarina said.

"If we separate from California we will lose millions of dollars in funding for roads, education and social services for youth, families and seniors," said Kevin Hendrick, director of the Keep It California-No On Measure A campaign. "Promises of lower taxes and smaller government in the state of Jefferson means these services will be cut or must be paid through other means."

Hendrick and other Keep It California proponents submitted resolutions opposing Jefferson state to the Crescent City Council on Monday and the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees on April 24. School district officials approved the resolution, pointing to a risk of major funding losses, but the Council, after hearing from both sides, refused to take a stance, citing insufficient information about the financial impact.

Contrary to what the opponents say, schools, roads and social services would still exist if Jefferson is formed, said Mark Baird, a Yreka cargo plane pilot who runs a cattle ranch and radio station. Baird spearheaded the most recent movement last summer, writing the declarations that Siskiyou, Modoc and, earlier this year, Glenn counties approved.

Baird, Funk and other Jefferson advocates say Del Norte and other Northern California counties rely heavily on state funding because they no longer have access to the region's timber, fishing and mineral resources. As a new state, Jefferson would reclaim control of the federal lands that dominate Northern California's rural counties and put those to official use, Baird said. Those lands would also go back on the tax rolls, he said.

Jefferson state would also have an environment that attracts business, provides jobs and is attractive for people to stay and raise their families, Baird said.

"That's what this is about," he said. "And if Del Norte County wants to be part of the conversation, a declaration doesn't cost anything. It doesn't cause any action on the part of county government or the School Board or township. It's simply an affirmation of dissatisfaction with the lack of representation in rural Northern California."

Power politics

Advocates hope to collect enough declaration resolutions and submit them to California lawmakers for approval. 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 a new state doesn't require a signature from California's governor or the president, Baird said at a Crescent City town hall meeting in February, citing the U.S. Constitution.

But critics of the Jefferson state movement say lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington likely wouldn't endorse the formation of a new state in a heavily conservative region because it would likely send more Republicans to the House and Senate.

Plus, Hendrick said, even if the state of Jefferson is formed it wouldn't have much clout, since it's likely the state would have only three representatives in Congress: two senators and one member of Congress, due to the region's population. He noted that the population of the four counties that have passed declarations to withdraw is less than 250,000.

"Let's assume they get the million people they want with all the counties if everybody signs up, which is still a long shot," he said, adding that even if California lawmakers approve the new state, Congress is unlikely to approve the proposal because it takes away power from existing states. "If that were a state, the population would be so small, you would still have two senators, but you'd only have pretty much one congressperson. Right now the California caucus is more than 50 people. It's huge and it's effective."

Legal options

Support from the Board of Supervisors gives Del Norte standing in any potential federal challenge advocates may make should the proposed state of Jefferson be rejected by California lawmakers, Baird said. If that happens, advocates can still fight for adequate representation by challenging a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case, Reynolds v. Sims, he said.

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.

Before 1964, each county in California had one state senator, Funk told the Crescent City Council on Monday. That legislative design had existed in California for more than 100 years, he said.

"(Reynolds v. Sims) robbed Del Norte County of its state senator," he said. "It also robbed us of representation in the (state) Senate along with 11 other northern counties, which now share just one senator."

Meanwhile 10 state senators represent the Bay Area, while the Los Angeles area is represented by 20 state senators, Funk told the Council. Overturning Reynolds v. Sims would result in every California county being guaranteed a state senator, he said.

Baird says that to have a chance of overturning Reynolds v. Sims, Jefferson advocates would have to show that by ignoring the declarations to withdraw, the California Legislature harmed northern counties. Advocates would also have to offer a solution, which in this case is the state of Jefferson, he said.

According to Tobias Gibson, an associate professor of political science at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., who teaches classes on the Supreme Court and Constitutional law, Baird's definition of standing in a Supreme Court case is correct. But that doesn't mean the Supreme Court will hear the case, he said.

"If the Supreme Court wants to hear this case, the Supreme Court is going to hear this case," Gibson said. "If the Supreme Court does not want to hear this case, no matter how much they think they can prove standing, (the court) won't hear the case."

Supreme Court decisions aren't always final, Gibson said. Congress often passes laws in reaction to a Supreme Court decision. In the wake of the Reynolds decision, a senator in Illinois proposed a constitutional amendment toprevent Reynold's effects, arguing that the ruling would result in Chicago dominating state politics. The amendment didn't pass, Gibson said.

Gibson added that the concept of "one man, one vote," which was established under the U.S. Supreme Court's Baker v. Carr decision in 1962, is so entrenched in society that other states wouldn't support a reversal of Reynolds v. Sims. Baker v. Carr set the precedent for Reynolds v. Sims.

"My opinion is that we have now become so entrenched in the last 50 or so years following Baker and Reynolds in this idea that every person has a vote; not every geographical thing like a county or a city or a municipality," Gibson said. "I think that the people of Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego would want to keep their individual votes rather than ceding that power to Shasta County."

A question of representation

Hendrick argued that even though some feel that Del Norte's political representation is lacking, the county is represented. He pointed to Del Norte's collaboration with rural counties through the Regional Council of Rural Counties, or RCRC, stating that District 5 Supervisor David Finigan has been involved in the organization for years.

Hendrick said he himself was a representative on RCRC's Environmental Services Joint Powers Authority. He also had success in changing the state's 50 percent recycling goal so that it was more flexible for smaller rural counties.

"If you're unhappy with decisions then you have to understand and work with the process that we have," Hendrick said. "Is it complicated? Yes. Does it sometimes take government staff that know how to make it work? Absolutely. That's why they get paid to help us figure this out."

So far, Jefferson committees have gone before elected officials in Sutter and Butte counties in addition to Yuba, Glenn, Siskiyou and Modoc, Baird said. Town halls are set for Placer, Shasta, Lake and Nevada counties.

Baird will make another visit to Del Norte County at a town hall meeting on May 17.

Meanwhile, the Keep It California campaign and the Del Norte County State of Jefferson Declaration Committee will state their cases before voters at a candidate forum hosted by the Del Norte Tea Party Patriots on Tuesday.

The forum will start with a meet and greet at 5:45 p.m. inside the Floral Building at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.