It’s secession season again in California. For the seventh time in 27 years or so, there’s a movement afoot to split the state.
Most secession attempts have sought to divide California on a north-south basis, dividing it roughly at the top of the Tehachapi Mountains between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. But the newest effort is a completely different twist, even carrying a name: The state of Jefferson.
This one originates in Siskiyou County, a mostly-rural, mountainous area bordering on Oregon that is roughly bisected by the north-south route of Interstate 5. County supervisors there, confronted by citizens frustrated by what they see as neglect and even persecution from state government, voted 4-1 early last month to leave. They’d like to take some other Northern California counties, and a few from southern Oregon, with them.
Supervisors in some neighboring counties will probably vote on the idea soon.
If the state of Jefferson were to become reality, its largest cities would include Ashland or Klamath Falls, Ore., or Eureka, in Humboldt County. If it stretched as far south as Shasta County, Redding would become its metropolis.
Many Siskiyou residents and some in nearby counties are angry over new gun control laws and firefighting fees being assessed by state officials in wildfire-prone areas. They also harbor longtime fears that big cities to the south might one day tap wild and scenic rivers like the Eel, Smith or Trinity. They feel unrepresented in Sacramento, and are plainly alienated from the freeway-conscious cultures of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.
But no matter how intriguing the Jefferson idea may be, and no matter how valid the grievances of the affected area, this state split isn’t likely to go any further than previous attempts.
For one thing, it would have to be OK’d by Congress. How many other states will vote, in effect, to give the present California two more seats in the United States Senate?
There’s also the likelihood that the demographic and political makeup of the Jefferson area would assure election of a Republican governor and legislature, something Democrats now controlling Sacramento and the U.S. Senate would resist.
These factors are significant reasons why there has been no successful state split since the Civil War era, when West Virginia was formed as a pro-Union state after the rest of Virginia became the seat of the Confederacy. Feelings may run high today in some places, but there’s no way an annual fire fee can arouse the same deep feelings as slavery did a century and a half ago.
What’s more, secession would require an overall yes vote from all Californians – very unlikely.
This doesn’t mean people in rural Northern California aren’t sick of being dominated politically by the big coastal population centers. So the newest state-split advocates have at least something in common with the 28 previous efforts to split the state since California joined the Union, mostly spurred by Northern Californians fearing domination by Los Angeles.
The bottom line now, as with past state split efforts, is that it’s not going to happen, no matter how much fun some folks might have talking up the idea.