News Column

Rural Californians Rekindle Secession Movement

September 5, 2013

Justin Berton

They're fed up with the state legislators who focus on California's big-city needs. They're tired of bureaucrats in Sacramento who govern from afar and by decree.

And they're still miffed they didn't win their sovereignty when they had the chance more than 70 years ago.

So on Tuesday, supervisors in the far northern province of Siskiyou County decided to make things right: They voted to secede from California.

In a 4-1 vote that revitalized a regional secession movement that supporters hope will one day lead to creation of the new state of Jefferson, county supervisors approved a declaration that called for breaking away from the Golden State.

Far from a symbolic ploy, the secessionists hope their bold gesture will inspire supervisors in neighboring counties to take a stand, follow suit and join the cause. Granted, independent statehood would still require the highly unlikely approval of state and federal lawmakers -- but Jefferson rebels say they're still true believers.

'Rural Spring'

"We need to build consensus and keep the momentum going," said Supervisor Brandon Criss, whose densely forested District 1 is roughly half the size of Rhode Island. "It could be the 'Rural Spring.' "

For Criss and others who'd like to see a new regional government that prioritizes the needs of residents who live along both sides of the Oregon border, talk about statehood has rolled through the hills since 1941, when five sparsely populated counties -- Siskiyou, Modoc, Shasta and Del Norte in California and Curry County, Ore., -- declared themselves the state of Jefferson.

The movement was sparked by angry miners and loggers who pushed for paved roads and felt disconnected from their state representatives. The group signed a declaration of independence and raised a green double-X flag, which represented the double-crossing from officials in state capitals in Salem, Ore., and Sacramento.

World War II unity

But the bombing of Pearl Harbor stalled the movement, as residents turned their attention to the larger cause of national unity.

Postwar reconstruction -- paved roads, improved civic services and a booming timber industry -- all managed to diffuse tension.

But the reasons for carving out a new government have never changed. Residents still feel overlooked and undercut by state politicians, who they say put more stock in big-city projects and the concerns of environmental litigants, rather than the needs of rural folks.

Laws that regulate vehicle traffic and air quality, Criss said, might work well in Los Angeles, but can hurt livelihoods in Yreka.

"You can't carpool in a tractor here," Criss joked.

"We just don't seem to have any control over our government," said Marcia Armstrong, a Siskiyou County supervisor who supported the declaration. "It's governing like we're subjects. It's supposed to be self-governance, and it's not."

The sole dissenter on the Board of Supervisors, Ed Valenzuela, said that he sympathized with the secessionists, but that the region had missed its chance in the 1940s, when government was smaller.

Now, he said, the county has double-digit unemployment and relies heavily on state funding to get by.

'Romanticized notion'

"It's a romanticized notion, at this point," Valenzuela said. "From a practical standpoint, it's going to be too much time and effort for what's not going to be a likely scenario."

Still, future state of Jefferson residents say the scenario just needs more support. First, the declaration would be read into the record on the state Senate floor in Sacramento, then two-thirds of the legislators would need to approve the proposal.

After that, Congress would need to support the plan as well.

It could take years, decades, or never happen.

"It depends on how fast they want to do it," Armstrong said. "It depends on how fast they want to get rid of us."



Source: (c)2013 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by MCT Information Services


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