George Boardman

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July 21, 2014
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George Boardman: Don Quixote had nothing on the backers of State of Jefferson

Nevada County is no stranger to secessionist movements, and it may soon get a chance to join a new one if supporters of the State of Jefferson can get on the agenda of the board of supervisors.

Supporters have held meetings in Auburn and a State of Jefferson town hall meeting is scheduled for Western Gateway Park in August, an attempt by the Nevada County Tea Party to drum up local interest.

Since the current board has been willing to listen to the likes of Doyle Shamley, the secessionist will probably get a hearing.

Regardless of what the supervisors do, this effort is unlikely to be any more successful than the original State of Jefferson movement or the Great Republic of Rough and Ready.

The current effort envisions joining seven counties from southern Oregon with roughly 12 counties in Northern California to create a state government that supporters believe will be responsive to the needs and desires of residents, something they claim they don’t get now from Salem or Sacramento.

Residents of the area have long complained about uncaring, unresponsive state leaders, and first tried to form the State of Jefferson in 1941, when people in Curry County, Oregon, and northern California decided to form the 49th state with Yreka as the capitol.

A group of armed men stopped traffic on U.S. 99 south of Yreka to hand out copies of a proclamation of independence declaring that the State of Jefferson was in a “patriotic rebellion against the states of California and Oregon,” and would continue to “secede every Thursday until further notice.” (Talk about a half-hearted effort!)

They even inaugurated a governor, John C. Childs of Yreka, on Dec. 4, 1941, but the movement came to an end three days later when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. However, Stanton Delaplane, a long-time reporter and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle who specialized in whimsy, won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the effort.

The current California promoters of secession are more conservative on social, economic and environmental issues than the state as a whole, and feel ignored by Sacramento and the big political wheels on the coast.

They have a point. California is largely an urban state, and the power and political influence can be found in the metropolitan areas.

Much of that influence stems from the fact that 80 percent of political contributions in California come from the Bay Area and the Los Angeles—San Diego corridor. The counties north of us kick in less than one percent.

That’s why politicians spend so much time on the coast. When President Barack Obama visited Fresno recently, the Sacramento Bee sarcastically thanked him for remembering the rest of the state.

Secession supporters envision keeping more tax dollars in the counties, controlling their water resources, and reopening our long-abandoned lumber mills. Then there’s the usual litany about restoration of basic rights, freedom from government oppression, and saving our children from Common Core.

The idea has received a mixed reception to date. In the June primary, Tehama County endorsed forming a 51st state, while Del Norte and Siskiyou counties rejected the idea.

The idea has also been rebuffed by Shasta County. Five counties have endorsed the idea, three have rejected it, and the rest haven’t done anything yet.

If secessionists approach the Plumas County supervisors, chair Jon Kennedy said he will ask for specific information outlining the fiscal projections for managing a new state. “No one has penciled it out,” he said.

Ah, yes, the money. The California counties envisioned as part of Jefferson have per capita incomes below the state average and poverty rates above the state average.

Among those in Sacramento who keep track of where tax dollars are spent,the counties north of Nevada County are collectively known as the “welfare counties.”

The residents of Jefferson will be shocked at the tax load they’ll have to carry to replace the state money they get now. In addition, the environmental, land use, immigration and other laws and regulations they don’t like are largely federal statutes, and they won’t go away if a 51st state is created.

Jefferson isn’t likely to happen. The promoters will have no credibility in Sacramento or Washington without the support of all counties in the area, and three have already said no. But at least something is happening here — a search of the Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, and papers in Oregon’s seven southern counties turned up no stories about the movement.

With just 4 percent of the state’s population (and that’s if you include Yuba, Sutter, Placer and Nevada counties) they lack political clout.

Then there’s the water issue; if you think southern California will let all that water get away, you’re smoking something that lacks a revenue stamp.

There’s something else Plumas supervisor Kennedy pointed out: The proposed flag is “ugly. A new state deserves something pretty.”

George Boardman, a member of The Union Editorial Board, lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in the The Union.

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The Union Updated Jul 21, 2014 01:01AM Published Jul 25, 2014 01:52PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.