Green flags emblazoned with a yellow circle encompassing twin Xs are an increasingly common sight in the Gold Country. That standard belongs not to a county or a current state in the union, but rather to a would-be state: the State of Jefferson.
In October 1941, the original State of Jefferson movement got its start. Local officials from counties along the Oregon/California border proposed the idea of creating a new state, independent of the distant leadership of either Salem or Sacramento. Empowered locals took enthusiastically to the idea and, in late November of that year, set-up a road block on Route 99 near Yreka to distribute copies of Jefferson’s “Proclamation of Independence.”
In spite of their fervor, the December attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing outbreak of World War II effectively doused the quiet rebellion of the Jeffersonians as national unity was prized over regional pride.
Now 75 years later, a resurgent State of Jefferson movement is seeking to found a new state encompassing not only the border counties of southern Oregon and northern California, but also counties as far south as Placer and El Dorado. In part because of that expanded footprint – Jefferson would be the 18th largest state in the U.S. – the movement has successfully gained not only notoriety, but also limited political success.
County governments in Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn, Yuba, Tehama and Sutter have all adopted resolutions on the theme of withdrawing from the State of California. Lake and Lassen county supervisors, meanwhile, have submitted similar questions about devolution to their electorates. In each case, representational concerns are at the center of the calls for independence.
At both the national and state levels, the area that would make-up the State of Jefferson is subject to control from bodies in which its level of representation is minimal. For instance, in California, by the most generous tally of state legislative districts and the broadest understanding of Jefferson’s boundaries, the would-be state has six Assembly Districts and three Senate Districts in chambers of 80 and 40, respectively.
The consent of the governed is difficult to appraise when, as a matter of population, the governed are more removed from their state senator (district population of 931,349) than they are from their national member of Congress (704,566). But that is a statewide problem in California.
Specific to Jefferson, while proportionally represented at the state level, the sheer size of its proposed boundary underscores the intuitive sense of under-representation that advocates for its creation feel at the federal level. Living in a predominately rural region, the voices and concerns of would-be Jeffersonians are under-represented in the U.S. Senate when compared to their rural neighbors in Nevada and Idaho.
But while the counties of northern California and southern Oregon have a legitimate gripe when it comes to their influence in Washington, D.C., the legal obstacles confronting the creation of Jefferson are substantial. Not the least of which would be convincing both legislatures to assent to the departure of the disaffected counties.
Barring a major shift in the political landscapes of both California and Oregon, the State of Jefferson will remain consigned to the imaginations of those who envision its creation. Yet, whether or not Jefferson becomes the 51st State, the movement’s crystallization of concerns about the voice of the North State and the Gold Country is a success in itself.