Lassen County Supervisor Jim Chapman is not a fan of the state of California. Two decades before rural dissidents revived a 1941 concept to create a State of Jefferson, Chapman was advocating for his rural county to secede, blaming its near state of bankruptcy on state policies.
Now, he is opposing the current proposal for a 51st state, countering it with one he believes is more likely to garner the rural representation that is at the heart of the State of Jefferson movement.
Instead of going to the state Legislature and then the U.S. Congress for approval of a breakaway state, Chapman proposes going directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is pushing for the court to overturn the 1964 decision he and Jeffersonian secessionists alike blame for what they consider unequal representation of rural areas.
If successful, Chapman’s process would accomplish the goal of increasing rural representation without creating a new state. The State of Jefferson approach is already “dead on arrival,” he said.
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“It makes more sense to try to convince five justices on the Supreme Court than all those legislators,” Chapman said.
The Lassen County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a revised version of the State of Jefferson declaration endorsed by seven Northern California counties.
The secessionists propose getting enough grass-roots backing to convince state and federal legislators that the current system of representation is unfair to rural residents. Declarations from counties and cities will define the existing harm, creating the standing required for legal action, said Mark Baird, a State of Jefferson spokesman.
“Representation is our goal. I see it in a 51st state,” he said.
Siskiyou County, where Baird is based, was the first to vote to secede from California. Modoc County supervisors were next, followed by supervisors in Glenn, Yuba and Sutter counties, and voters in Tehama County. Lake County supervisors voted this month to hold an election in November 2016 to let the voters decide.
The declaration these counties endorsed cites “state fiscal malfeasance in many forms,” including the highest state sales and personal income taxes in the country. The declaration before the Lassen supervisors adds implementation of grazing, irrigation and groundwater programs; “an illegal fire tax”; and listing the gray wolf as a state endangered species.
It also tacks on a paragraph committing the county to a direct court challenge of the legislation if the constitutional challenge is unsuccessful. Lassen County approval is conditional pending a countywide vote in June 2016, the declaration states.
The overarching issue is a 1964 Supreme Court case, Reynolds v. Sims, which ruled that state legislature districts must to be roughly equal in population. For the 35 prior years, districts were apportioned on the basis of geography.
Los Angeles County, for example, had one member in the California state Senate, and so did a rural county with 14,000 people. Today, just six members of the Legislature represent the 20 northern counties, while 35 come from Los Angeles County alone, Baird said.
The secessionist movement he leads is one of 222 efforts since 1850 to split the state, Chapman said. Far from innovative, “it’s really kind of old hat,” he said.
In addition to the complicated process of getting legislative approval, Chapman is critical of Baird’s financial model, which projects an $8 billion surplus for the 20 counties targeted in the breakaway movement.
“That’s just wrong, and it’s counting on federal income that won’t exist,” Chapman said. Baird defended the numbers, saying they have been vetted by several county officials.
The option for Lassen and other rural counties is quite clear, Baird said: “Should we continue down the same path of 50 years? We know it isn’t working for the people of Northern California.”
Chapman plans to vote against the State of Jefferson declaration. “But I’m just one of five supervisors,” he said.
The issue is scheduled to be discussed at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Jensen Hall at the Lassen County Fairgrounds in Susanville.