The decades-old idea to create the State of Jefferson was reignited Sept. 3 when Siskiyou County supervisors voted to withdraw from California.
The mythical State of Jefferson would cover portions of Northern California and Southern Oregon from the Pacific Ocean to hundreds of miles inland. A rough map is available at jeffersonstate.com that includes 20 counties. For those involved in the movement, however, there’s nothing mythical about the State of Jefferson.
In a recent interview, Brandon Criss said the need for rural representation has not been met. He cited a major push from California blocking the relicensing of Klamath River hydroelectric dams.
The Redding Record Searchlight newspaper reported: “county residents lobbied the board to consider separating from the state over a laundry list of complaints including a lack of representation in Sacramento for the Republican-majority county, issues pertaining to water rights and the rural fire prevention fee.”
Many media sources have picked up on the story, including National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
Host Steve Inskeep asked Siskiyou County supervisor Michael Kobseff if the State of Jefferson, which would be largely rural counties with no large cities, would be financially viable.
Michael Kobseff answered in the affirmative. “If we have the ability to make our own destiny, we think we can make it.”
Even late night host Jimmy Kimmel couldn’t help commenting on the state withdrawal story.
“They’re hoping to form a coalition of like-minded counties in northern California and southern Oregon and would like to name their new state, Jefferson,” Kimmel said. “I like that they already have a name for it. It’s like when a five-year-old tells you what they’re going to name their baby.”
But Criss argues the importance of the vote to draw attention to state-wide environmental regulations that hamper the area’s economic growth and development. “To release some of the regulations would help out rural California a great deal.”
The county supervisor said recently that he’s been getting phone calls and emails from many Californians, indicating they’d like to move to the State of Jefferson.
History backs state secession supporters
Criss pointed out how in the early 1990s, 27 California counties voted to partition the state into three parts.
An early flashpoint for the State of Jefferson movement occurred in 1941. That year, Siskiyou County supervisors agreed to allocate funds to research the possibility of statehood. They said their rural needs were not being met.
A San Francisco Chronicle reporter won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the statehood movement, though the Dec. 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor diverted attention.
Aftershocks of statehood attempts have been felt over the decades, but perhaps none as strong as those currently being volleyed about in northern California.
According to Criss, the language for the supervisors’ secessionary declaration of desire to form a new state was written up by radio station owner and rancher Mark Baird of Yreka, Calif.
Hard work ahead for Jefferson backers
Baird says the work is just beginning. “I believe we have a narrow window of opportunity, but I believe we have to educate the people who are going to vote to let us go.”
Baird noted that citizens of 15 California counties have expressed their support to him.
The only dissenting voice in a 4-1 vote was Ed Valenzuela. The Siskiyou County board chair said issues confronting the supervisors are not isolated to individual topics such as dam removal but encompass larger issues of rural and urban divides.
And though Valenzuela acknowledges the importance of these issues, he has said he doesn’t think it’s plausible to achieve secession or new statehood.
“Certainly rural California feels very much in the minority when it comes to representation,” Valenzuela said in a recent interview. “But from a practical, realistic standpoint, it just doesn’t seem like it’s a doable, plausible thing to happen.”
Formation of any new state requires approval from state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. The last state to successfully separate itself from another was West Virginia on June 20, 1863.
That doesn’t mean California politicians are all against the idea. Take Republican representative for California’s first congressional district, Doug LaMalfa.
At the recent Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair, LaMalfa said if the state of Jefferson was something his constituents wanted, he would support the proposal in Congress.
LaMalfa even joked that he could be governor of the State of Jefferson.
Finances play key part in secession talks
Much of the debate between the county supervisors comes down to economics. Criss said environmental regulations and hardships on forestry, farming and trucking are largely California’s fault.
Valenzuela, who lives in Mount Shasta, said the area has more economic vitality than his colleague gives credit for — citing agriculture such as strawberries and Mount Shasta Ski Bowl, a ski resort.
Criss said other counties including Modoc are currently considering the declaration, which is formally called the Declaration to the California State Legislature Supporting the Withdrawal of Siskiyou County from the State of California.
Modoc County will vote on whether to withdraw from California Sept. 24.
Though Valenzuela has said he doesn’t agree with the new statehood bid, he said the State of Jefferson movement could result in a reengagement of citizen participation in government.
County commissioners in southern Oregon’s Klamath County have also voiced interest in forming the State of Jefferson.
Were Oregon counties to join the effort, it would mean another state assembly willing to pass the proposal with a simple majority.
The fever for forming new states is by no means limited to the West Coast, as similar proposals bubble up in Maryland and Colorado.