Partition and secession in California

The State of Jefferson is a proposed U.S. state that would span the contiguous, mostly rural area of southern Oregon and northern California, where several attempts to separate from Oregon and California, respectively, have taken place.

The field of the flag is green, and the charge is the Seal of the State of Jefferson: a gold mining pan with the words ‘The Great Seal Of State Of Jefferson’ engraved into the lip, and two Xs askew of each other. The two Xs are known as the ‘Double Cross’ and signify the two regions’ ‘sense of abandonment’ by the central state governments.

This region on the Pacific Coast is the most famous of several that have sought to adopt the name of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Jefferson, who sent the Lewis and Clark expedition into the Pacific Northwest in 1803, envisioned the establishment of an independent nation in the western portion of North America that he dubbed the ‘Republic of the Pacific’; hence, the association of his name with regional autonomy. The independence movement, rather than statehood, is known as Cascadia.

This region encompasses most of Northern California’s land but does not include San Francisco or other Bay Area counties that account for the majority of Northern California’s population.

The name ‘Jefferson’ has also been used for other proposed states: the name was proposed in the 19th century for Jefferson Territory (roughly modern Colorado), as well as in 1915 in a bill in the Texas Legislature for a proposed state that would be created from the Texas Panhandle region.

If the proposal were ever approved, the new state’s capital city would have to be determined by a constitutional convention. Yreka, California, was named the provisional capital in the original 1941 proposal, although Port Orford, Oregon, had also been up for consideration. Some supporters of the more recent revival have also identified Redding, California, as a potential capital.

In 1941, the Mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, Gilbert Gable, said that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson. He was motivated by the belief that these heavily rural areas were underrepresented in state government, which tended to cater to more populous areas.

On November 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, the county seat of Siskiyou County, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the State of Jefferson was in ‘patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon’ and would continue to ‘secede every Thursday until further notice.’

The state split movement ended quickly, though not before Del Norte County District Attorney John Leon Childs (1863–1953) of Crescent City was inaugurated as the Governor of the State of Jefferson on December 4, 1941. The first blow was the death of Mayor Gable on December 2, followed by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. Those in favor of splitting the state focused their efforts on the war effort, which crippled the movement.

In 1989, KSOR, the National Public Radio member station based at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, near Medford, rebranded itself as Jefferson Public Radio. It had built a massive network of low-powered translators earlier in the 1980s. By the time KSOR began building full-power stations later in the decade, it realized that the combined footprint of its translator network was roughly coextensive with the original State of Jefferson. It thus felt ‘Jefferson Public Radio’ was an appropriate name when it decided to rebrand itself as a network.

In 1992, California State Assemblyman Stan Statham placed an advisory vote in 31 counties asking if the state should be split into two. All of the proposed Jefferson counties voted in favor of the split (except Humboldt County which did not have the issue on the ballot). Based on these results, Statham introduced legislation in California in an attempt to split the state, but the bill died in committee.

In the late 1990s, the movement for statehood was promoted by a group called the State of Jefferson Citizens Committee, which was originally formed in 1941. Two of the members, Brian Helsaple and Brian Petersen, gathered an extensive collection, including both verbal and written accounts mostly surrounding the 1941 movement. They published a book, ‘Jefferson Saga,’ in 2000. This, along with revealing the lack of representation and over-regulations, fanned the flame.

In 2013, the Siskiyou County, California Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 in favor of withdrawal from California to form a proposed state named Jefferson. The proposal was joined by the Modoc County Board of Supervisors and Glenn County Board of Supervisors in 2014. Yuba and Tehama, and Sutter Counties considered secession related legislation. In 2015, Lake County supervisors voted 3 to 2 to submit the question of secession to voters. Lassen County supervisors made a similar referendum in 2016. The Jefferson Declaration Committee is reportedly aiming to get at least 12 counties in support.

In 2014, Modoc and Siskiyou Counties delivered their declarations for independence from the state of California to the California Secretary of State’s office. In 2015, three more counties, Glenn, Tehama, and Yuba, submitted their official declarations as well.

The 2013 revival was based almost entirely in California. It includes all major parts of California north of 39°. Although some individual residents in Oregon have lobbied for the movement, no county government in that state has endorsed the proposal to date. By 2016, 21 northern California counties had sent a declaration or have approved to send a declaration to the State of California with their intent of leaving the state and forming the State of Jefferson. The population of the 21 California counties was 1,747,626 as of the 2010 U.S. Census, which would be 39th most populous state in the Union.

After the 2016 presidential election, it was noted that most of the rural California counties which would belong to the State of Jefferson were won in a landslide by Republican nominee Donald Trump, whereas Democrat Hillary Clinton enjoyed an unprecedented level of support in the rest of California, indicating a growing demographic and political divide between the proposed State of Jefferson and the rest of California. While Clinton beat Trump by almost 80 points in San Francisco, he led her by more than 50 points in Lassen County. The election of Trump led to calls for a secession of California and a similar proposal in Oregon, where Clinton won the popular vote while Trump captured the majority of counties.

With the election of President Donald Trump, some who are considering joining the modern State of Jefferson or are observing the movement have stated that if California secedes, the movement’s supporting counties could appeal directly to the United States Congress for statehood, similar to how West Virginia was formed, claiming California would be in insurrection and petitioning to rejoin the Union as an independent state.

In 2017, the State of Jefferson as ‘Citizens for Fair Representation’ filed a lawsuit against the California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The suit alleges that California’s 1862 law limiting Senators to no more than 40, and Assembly Members to no more than 80, creates an unconstitutional imbalance of representation that precludes effective ‘self-governance’ as protected by the 14th Amendment. The desired result of suing California, for lack of representation and dilution of vote, is better representation across all of California, and ultimately an independent State of Jefferson. The case was dismissed by the lower court and appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

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