Friday, November 29, 2013

State of Jefferson Idea Won’t Go Away: Activists across Northern California Push for Statehood

The political dust is still settling from last month’s partial rout of northwestern Colorado’s rural-and-Republican-driven 51st-state movement.  As reported at the time in this blog, five of the 11 counties that had the question on the ballot said “yes” to the idea of seceding as a new “red” state to be called North Colorado or New Colorado.  Disappointingly, the measure failed, narrowly, in Weld County, the least rural of the 11 but the one where the North Colorado movement first began.  The movement is not dead, but now seems to be shifting toward constitutional jiggering to create new forms of power-sharing between rural Colorado and increasingly liberal cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder.

Meanwhile, the other two state-secession movements of this political season, after taking a few weeks to digest the Colorado results, are finding new life.  The Western Maryland State Initiative, which would (as reported earlier in this blog) like the five politically conservative and culturally Appalachian counties in Maryland’s landlocked panhandle to secede, held a town meeting in Cumberland, Maryland, on November 22nd.

The 1941 State of Jefferson activists were quite serious about it.
But the State of Jefferson turns out to be the state-secession movement with legs.  The idea was formulated in 1941, with five (or, in some versions, 12) counties in northern California and southern Oregon wanting to split away, complaining about poor government services.  They even set up roadblocks and distributed passports.  The attack on Pearl Harbor put those plans on hold seemingly permanently, but the idea persisted.  Later plans proposed an expanded Jefferson, made up of seven Oregon counties and 13 California ones.

The State of Jefferson booth at this year’s Tehama County fair.
(The “don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag imagery in the logo shown here is not the canonical Jefferson flag.)
But the Tea Party movement has reenergized Jefferson secessionism with a vengeance.  Inspired by the North Colorado movement (as reported in this blog), the board of supervisors in Siskiyou County, California, voted on September 3rd of this year to make their county the kernel of a new State of Jefferson (also reported in this blog).  Nearby Modoc County’s board threw its hat in the ring on September 20th with a unanimous vote (as reported in this blog), with (as also reported here) interest being shown in other northern counties as well.

There we go.  That’s the real State of Jefferson flag.
The board of supervisors in Tehama County, California, told a spillover, capacity crowd of hundreds in a special cession on November 13th that they were looking at the State of Jefferson idea and had a lot of concerns but weren’t taking it off the table.  They were waiting for “a structured plan,” in the words of the county supervisor, Dennis Garton.  The meeting was full not just of concerned Tehamans but official representatives of several municipalities, activists from the Jefferson Committee, and quite a few residents from other “Jeffersonian” counties, including Shasta, Siskiyou, and Glenn.

A Jefferson statehood supporter makes her case to the Tehama County board of supervisors.
Giving a presentation at the meeting, Tom Knorr, of the Jefferson Committee opined, “Our problems are lack of representation and lack of empathy.  It is a numbers question, it is not a question of the quality of people that represent us Los Angeles has more or less 25 representatives while the entire northern counties has four.  Urban legislation kills our rural economy.”

Which counties should be in or out has been a matter of debate.
Knorr went on to say that this year’s developments were only the beginning: “Once we have the declarations of 10 or more contiguous counties, the people will take the next step in initiating the separation. I want to point out that we are following a legal process as described in the U.S. Constitution, Article 4, Section 3.”

December 6, 1941.  Bad timing for a revolution.
Mike Murray, county supervisor for Glenn County, California, said on November 19th that he and his colleagues have been hearing a lot of clamoring to hop on the State of Jefferson bandwagon.  Though he avoided taking a position on the matter, Murray announced that there would be a public meeting to consider the idea.

The following day, a lecture hall at the California State University campus in Chico, the seat of Butte County, was also filled to capacity as Jeffersonian secessionists addressed activists, residents, and county and city officials.  Statehood activist Terry Rapoza tamped down rumors that Oregon—Oregon as a whole, presumably—was interested in joining California’s “Jefferson” counties in leaving the United States. “Oregon is in Oregon, California is in California, number one,” Rapoza said.   “Number two, we are not seceding.  We are not the South.  We are part of the United States of America and we want to be a state.  We want to have our voices heard.”  There was lots of talk of a 1964 court cases which helped shift California’s lower house to one based entirely on population, not on counties, which in the opinion of some erased rural representation.

Secessionist literature distributed at the Butte meeting showed one of the largest territories for Jefferson ever envisioned, slicing off approximately the northern quarter of the state just above the San Francisco Bay area, including a line of counties formed by Nevada (the county, that is), Yuba, Sutter, Colusa, Lake, and Mendocino and everything to the north.  According to Leslie Foss, a Jefferson activist, “Glenn County, Yuba County, Sutter County, Del Norte, numerous others, and Shasta County are all looking at it.  It is all up to the individual counties.”

Indeed, not all Jeffersonian activism comes from the right-wing end of the political spectrum.  Of the three candidates for a local State Assembly seat who addressed a gathering of Tea Party–affiliated “Corning Patriots” in Corning, Tehama County, on November 21st, two were Republicans, but the third, a Democrat from Red Bluff named Jim Reed, spoke against genetically modified foods and in favor of progressive taxation and labor unions.  All three share a concern for Southern California’s thirst for northern California’s water resources, and all three support the idea of the State of Jefferson.

The biggest barrier to Jefferson statehood is, of course, the United States Congress, which needs to approve any new states.  That may be an insuperable obstacle.  But for now, the State of Jefferson movement seems to have more momentum than it ever has in the over 70-year history of the idea.  So far, though, interestingly enough, only in California.  Where’s Oregon in all this?  Watch this space.

Political cartoonist Phil Fountain’s take on the Jefferson movement
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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