More than a state of mind
Siskiyou State of Jefferson activist eyes other North State counties, including Butte
In November 1941, armed citizens blocked Highway 99 south of Yreka to distribute pamphlets to passing motorists declaring local residents’ desire to separate from the state of California. The proposed territory, composed of several North State and southern Oregon counties, would be called the State of Jefferson, the name chosen from a contest held by a Yreka newspaper.
This effort—remembered by some as the Yreka Rebellion—was short-lived; on Dec. 2, Gilbert Gable, mayor of Port Orford, Ore., and the movement’s main champion, dropped dead. Then, on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and regional quibbles were set aside as the United States entered World War II. The spirit of Jefferson has endured, mostly as a symbol of the differences between mostly rural far-northern California and the largely urbanized southern half of the state, and occasionally as an earnest political movement.
More than 70 years later, Yreka is currently the flashpoint of another attempt at secession. On Sept. 3, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a “declaration to withdraw from the state of California,” a move that some critics have called—like many past efforts to split the state—an attention-seeking political stunt.
“This isn’t a stunt and it isn’t a joke,” Scott Valley rancher Mark Baird, the primary organizer behind the Siskiyou County declaration, said in a recent phone interview. Baird said he believes the North State lacks representation in Sacramento and that overregulation has led to the dearth of business and rampant unemployment in Northern California, to the point that drastic measures must be taken.
“We must do this,” Baird said. “We have to start over, and we have to avoid the mistakes that California has made and get back to good basic government, or our lives will never change for the better.”
Baird said his efforts were inspired by former state Assemblyman Stan Statham, who drafted legislation to split the state in three during the 1990s. Baird saw Statham speak at a Yreka Tea Party Patriots meeting in June, and was inspired to start the Jefferson Declaration Committee, the group responsible for the Siskiyou statement of secession.
He explained that Article IV, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution establishes a process for one state to be formed from land in another, and that precedents exist—West Virginia, Maine, Tennessee and the Carolinas were all carved out of existing states. Additionally, he said all that’s needed are majority votes at the state and federal legislative levels for Jefferson to be recognized.
Baird is no bumpkin when it comes to political strategy, and has spelled out an action plan he hopes groups in other counties—his goal is at least 10 by Jan. 1, when the new legislative session begins—will adopt. Baird’s plan, as outlined at www.jeffersondeclaration.net, is strong on libertarian rhetoric—though he claims no specific political affiliation himself—and he encourages each county to establish its own list of grievances and reasons for separation.
“We don’t want to go to other counties and tell people, ‘Well, you ought to live this way.’ If they want a road map, we’ll come down and show them what we did and how to do it, then have them talk to their own supervisors,” he said.
In Siskiyou County’s case, complaints were related to the state’s Fire Prevention Fee imposed on residents of certain rural areas, perceived threats to the Second Amendment, and Senate Bill 1, which calls for redevelopment in centralized locations, such as urban transit centers. Baird and company feel SB 1 is more fitting for high-density communities and fears it gives the government too much power to determine which properties should be redeveloped.
Baird also held up Assembly Bill 1266—which, when it takes effect Jan. 1, provides that all students can participate in sex-segregated school programs and use restrooms consistent with their gender identity rather than biological sex—as an example of “ridiculous laws coming out of Sacramento.”
“I can’t imagine communities that are typically pretty conservative being supportive of that,” Baird said. “I can’t imagine any parent, unless it happens to be a parent who’s gay with children who are gay, that would be OK with that.
“I can imagine the tremendous potential for abuse, particularly in high school and junior high school, where kids are just discovering their hormones.”
Existing environmental and business regulations are another source of ire in Siskiyou County. Baird explained loosening these restrictions is essential to the proposed new state’s economy: “If we had a favorable small-business environment with a favorable regulatory process for businesses, I could imagine all of the companies currently fleeing California with reckless abandon would just move on up the road to the new state, and we’d probably have more jobs than people to do those jobs.”
Baird said that, though the movement is spearheaded by conservatives thus far, he thinks people on both sides of the political spectrum should support the “win-win” split. He also said inclusion would be important while drafting a constitution for the new state; with the counties he has in mind for Jefferson, the population would be about 400,000, with about 150,000 currently registered Democrat and 190,000 registered Republican.
The Modoc Board of Supervisors will hear a declaration similar to Siskiyou County’s at its Sept. 24 meeting, and Baird said Shasta County will soon follow suit. He said Tehama County has started its own group to draft a declaration, and Baird has meetings with politicians in Del Norte and Humboldt counties scheduled next month, as well as public-speaking engagements in the Yuba-Sutter area and Butte County. Baird is not appealing to Oregon counties in an effort to focus on California.
Baird will speak at an Oroville Tea Party meeting at the Thermalito Grange on Sept. 23. The appearance was arranged by Joanne Alden of Chico.
Alden noted the Butte County movement is small so far, with just her and two other women working to spread the word and get a group organized.
“This is all in the very beginning stages here in Butte County,” Alden said. “We don’t really have a core group yet, but we’re hoping that Mark Baird’s speaking engagement will help us bring that core group together.”
Alden said one of the women working with her had reportedly contacted three Butte County supervisors. Supervisor Larry Wahl was the only one to respond as of press time, and said he hasn’t been contacted and was not aware of a local movement.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) and Assemblyman Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) were also unavailable, although Dahle already announced his support in a statement emailed on Sept. 4.
“If the people of Siskiyou County are successful in creating their own state, I will be the first to seek the office of Governor,” Dahle said.