A group of California residents are fed up with unfair representation within the state's government, which they say has led to excessive regulations and over taxation throughout northern counties. The group, a grassroots effort known as the State of Jefferson, hope to create a new state from Northern California to combat these issues, and local advocates hope that Stanislaus County will join the cause.
"The ability for the voices of Northern California to be heard is virtually impossible, and part of the problem is that you have one Assembly member covering multiple different counties," said Allan Romander, media coordinator for the State of Jefferson movement in Stanislaus County. "Because you have different attitudes and different political interests in those counties, with some countermanding each other, it's very difficult for an Assembly member to appropriately address or represent those folks when he or she is in Sacramento."
The State of Jefferson is a proposed U.S. state that would span the mostly rural area of multiple Northern California counties, which includes the 23 counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Sutter, Plumas, Butte, Colusa, Lake, Mendocino, Tehama, Lassen, Shasta, Modoc, Trinity, Humboldt, Del Norte and Siskiyou. Currently, there are six State Assembly members and three State Senators elected to represent those 23 counties, compared to the combined 111 state representatives elected in the state's southern counties.
This issue of legislative underrepresentation is what inspired the State of Jefferson movement's creation when the original proposal was drafted in 1941. After World War II caused the proposition to fall through, it was revived in 2013 when the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of withdrawal from California to form a state named Jefferson. The proposal was then joined by the remaining 22 counties' Boards, who either voted to support the declaration or allow their residents to vote on the matter.
As of Jan. 6, 2016, 21 of the 23 desired counties had sent a declaration or approved to send a declaration to the State of California with their intent of leaving the state and forming the State of Jefferson, which is a total of nearly two million people. Romander, along with Stanislaus County for State of Jefferson, hopes that our boot-shaped home will join them, citing concerns over water.
"One of the big reasons why we want to do this is the water issue," said Romander, referring to the increased flows that the State Water Resources Control Board has proposed in order to aid the area's native fish. "The water board is an unelected board that only answers to the government, and has so much authority that they can determine how much water can be released...that's way beyond good common sense or legislative responsibility, and it's all because of their concern for salmon. My last recollection is that salmon do not take precedence over the lives of humans."
It is Romander's hope, along with the rest of the State of Jefferson supporters, that under the new state's restructured government, Jefferson can assess a water transfer fee to let the state decide how water will flow throughout the region. This has brought support to the cause from the local agriculture community, he said, which is expected to drive Jefferson's economy along with timber, mining and fishing industries.
In order to become included in the State of Jefferson, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors must vote in favor of the county joining the new state. To help persuade the Board, Romander and Stanislaus County for State of Jefferson hosted an informational booth at the county fair, where passersby were given facts about Jefferson along with the opportunity to sign a petition urging the Board to join. Over 700 signatures were received.
"It was actually quite amazing to see the number of people that came up and asked questions, received our pamphlets and signed our petition," said Romander. "The petition that we're circulating is to take to the Board of Supervisors to impress them with the concept there is a large concern in the county, and we would like to become State of Jefferson where our votes would become counted."
If the Board of Supervisors were to approve a declaration to become part of Jefferson, they would then need to appeal to the State of Jefferson for inclusion into the already-existing group of counties. If the State of Jefferson approved Stanislaus County for entry into the state, it would then join the state in its current lawsuit against the State of California.
The lawsuit was filed May 8 by Citizens for Fair Representation, a nonprofit representing the counties of the State of Jefferson, and the first hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25 at the United States District Court in Sacramento.
"In essence, the lawsuit has been filed based on unfair representation and the dilution of votes in Northern California," said Romander.
The lawsuit could result in more representatives being added to the northern part of the state, or Jefferson becoming its own state all together. If the judge rules in Jefferson's favor to become its own state, it is likely that the State of California will appeal the decision, sending the case to the Supreme Court.
Advocates of the State of Jefferson envision a state with a lower sales tax (five percent), no cap and trade regulations and lower gas and property taxes. There will be other differences from California that they believe will be beneficial as well, such as fewer departments and bureaus, giving each county more control, and a legislature that only meets six weeks out of the year and is allowed one law per representative.
"If you look at today, the State of California is proposing around 1,700 pieces of legislation in the course of a year. Every time you give a legislator a chance to propose legislation, whether it makes sense or not, it's presented as possible legislation and the legislature then has to act on that," said Romander. "Jefferson would restrict the number of days they are in session and restrict the number of pieces of legislation so that there will be a lot less nonsensical regulations or laws passed."
Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution allows for new states to be formed, and it's been done before, though early on in American history. Vermont was created from New York and New Hampshire in 1791, Kentucky from Virginia in 1863, Maine from Massachusetts in 1820 and West Virginia from Virginia in 1863. Romander hopes to see Jefferson become the fifth instance.
"Historically, this has been done in the 1700s and 1800s," he said. "This is nothing new. There is precedent for this in the constitution."
Stanislaus County for State of Jefferson can be found on Facebook.