George Boardman: How does ‘The Marin County of Jefferson’ sound to you?
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If you think the State of Jefferson is a straightforward proposition about representation and taxation, you didn’t attend or view the dog-and-pony show sponsored last week by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
Among other topics mentioned at the Rood Center’s packed house was the Sonoma mosquito abatement district, King James, the “hooting law,” how much space hens get in their cages, burglaries where the value of stolen property is under $1,000, and how government employees can dominate primary elections.
What was supposed to be an information session on the pros and cons of seceding from California and creating a 51st state turned into equal parts therapy session for the aggrieved and a revival meeting to convert the heathen. (Who says there’s no more good free entertainment?)
It’s easy to laugh at such affairs (and I chuckled more than once as I watched the proceedings at home), but it is clear there are people in our society who are disillusioned about the American Dream, and who feel isolated and rejected in a country that claims to be inclusive of all.
Some of that fury fuels the State of Jefferson movement, whose advocates say they are tired of being ignored in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., overtaxed and over-regulated.
According to them, a smaller, simpler state that’s in harmony with the rural nature of Northern California and the conservative/libertarian philosophy of its residents will eliminate these problems.
This latest iteration of the movement (an earlier attempt was made before World War II) envisioned several counties in southern Oregon and about a dozen counties in Northern California banding together in a 51st state.
The Oregonians had second thoughts, but about seven or eight counties in the Golden State have expressed varying degrees of support for the idea.
Last week’s information session was the start of a campaign by backers of Jefferson to get Nevada County to sign on to the effort. The way proponents describe it, the decision should be a no-brainer.
For starters, we would have more representation, 571 state agencies that govern our lives would disappear, and more of our tax dollars would stay here. The new state government would take just 15 percent of our money and if somebody calls the state engineer, “he will say, ‘How can I help?’” according to Mark Baird, a Siskiyou County resident who did most of the presenting.
A lot of numbers based on debatable assumptions (an 8 percent sales tax seems high for such a conservative area) were offered up to make the case that Nevada County would benefit financially in the state of Jefferson, but a document produced by the office of county CEO Rick Haffey might cause some people to think twice about abandoning California.
Haffey produces a weekly Friday memo that usually includes some mildly interesting items that address the theme “your tax dollars at work.” In the run-up to the Jefferson meeting, Haffey produced a much edgier document: A comparison of Nevada County with counties to our north.
The memo compared such items as per capita income, the price of housing, levels of education, even incarceration rates. There are two ways you can look at this information:
Nevada County would really be slumming if it formed a new state with these counties. Or we could be the Marin County of Jefferson, lording it over our underachieving fellow state residents.
If we took the latter approach, we would then have one of Marin’s gripes: Paying taxes that prop up welfare counties to the north.
In an acknowledgment that creating a new state is a long shot at best, backers of Jefferson said they would work to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Reynolds vs. Sims ruling and — if necessary — sue the state of California for more representation.
In Reynolds vs. Sims, the court ruled in 1964 that state legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population. Until then, California’s 40 state senators represented one or two counties, while members of the state Assembly were apportioned according to population.
In the words of chief Justice Earl Warren, a latter-day convert to liberalism who apparently had no objection to the old system when he was governor of California: “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”
But residents of the state’s northern reaches want more representation for their trees and acres. “We have 80 state Assembly members and 40 Senators — to represent 40 million people,” Jefferson proponent Michael Warnken said at the meeting. “As a result, we have taxation without representation.”
Making a case that California needs more $100,000-a-year legislators and the staffs that go with them would be a tough sell. Besides, the real issue is getting the attention of elected representatives, not increasing the campaign costs of special interests.
If the Jeffersonites really want their elected representatives to pay attention, they should promote the effort to pass a constitutional amendment that overturns the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
That’s when the court ruled in 2010 that corporations, unions and other associations are people, and can spend as much money on elections as they want.
Elected officials are always trying to raise more money even when they have safe seats, and whoever wins next year’s presidential election is expected to spend over $1 billion to get elected.
He or she will only care what you think if your contribution to the winner’s campaign includes at least six digits.
You can take that to the bank.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in The Union.
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