Second county votes to secede from California

A renewed effort in northern California to form the new state of Jefferson gains ground

In 1941, the Northern California town of Yreka declared itself the capital of "Jefferson state." To this day, local shops advertise the aspiration.
Jeff Barnard/AP

Along Interstate 5 near Yreka, a Northern California town of about 8,000 people, the roof of an old hay barn informs drivers in bold, black letters they have entered the "State of Jefferson."

For over 70 years, a group of citizens in Northern California and Southern Oregon have pushed to unite their rural counties and secede from their respective states, creating a new state following the small-government ideals allegedly professed by Thomas Jefferson.

On Tuesday, a second California county joined the growing movement. Modoc County supervisors voted 4-0 in favor of secession, following in the footsteps of neighboring Siskiyou County that made a similar decision earlier this month.

Modoc County Board Chairwoman Geri Byrne told Al Jazeera that public sentiment was strongly in favor of passing the resolution. In a packed public meeting of about 40 people, Byrne said only two people spoke against secession.

Her constituents, Byrne said, are "frustrated," because rural counties have "no voice in the state of California."

Supporters of secession say that urban California holds sway in the halls of Sacramento, where both legislative houses are elected proportionally. Since California's 33 rural counties make up only 9 percent of the total population, rural residents simply are not represented, Byrne said.

"People in LA have no clue what we face," Byrne said. "We don't tell people in Los Angeles how to manage crime, so why should they tell us how to farm potatoes?"

Liz Bowen, a member of the Jefferson Declaration Committee, said it takes six hours to drive through her state senator's district. Senate District 1, which includes Modoc and Siskiyou counties, covers 10 counties. In contrast, Los Angeles metro area has 18 Senate districts. Without influence in Sacramento, she said, "So many laws, rules and regulations have been placed on us that our freedom has been eroded."

Over the years, many rural residents have been frustrated by federal environmental laws restricting logging and other forestry activities. Byrne said becoming a state would finally allow them to push the federal government to alter the onerous restrictions on government-owned land.

Not everyone in Northern California, however, supports the proposed new state. Mark Lovelace, a district supervisor in nearby Humboldt County, said that the state of Jefferson "is a romantic idea," but that it's "not economically viable."

Rural California receives more money from the state than it provides. Lovelace said in the proposed new state, taxes would have to rise to make up the difference. Humboldt County, where a local meeting is set to discuss secession on Friday, has an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, well above the national average of 7.3 percent. With the decline of the timber and mining industries, health care, schools and government now account for more jobs than logging and mining, according to The Associated Press.

The secessionist movement, Lovelace said, "is a cry for help, but there needs to be a reality check."

The goal of the secessionists is to get about 14 counties to vote in favor secession, Byrne said, and then head to California's legislature, which according to the U.S. Consitution has to approve the split. The U.S. Congress would also have to vote for such a move. No state has been severed since West Virginia split off during the Civil War.

Supporters admit the path to statehood is steep. Byrne said while "on paper, the state would work. Whether it could get through the legislature and Congress, that's another story."

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