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Lassen County puts State of Jefferson issue on ballot

Supporters for the State of Jefferson bow their heads in prayer in front of the California Capitol on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. They were there to pass out declaration of separation papers to lobbyists.
Supporters for the State of Jefferson bow their heads in prayer in front of the California Capitol on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. They were there to pass out declaration of separation papers to lobbyists. rbyer@sacbee.com

Lassen County voters will decide whether the rural county should support the State of Jefferson, a movement aimed at creating a 51st state to bring greater government representation to California’s northern region.

The Lassen County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday on a resolution that recognizes a lack of representation in state government but postpones the county’s position until June 2016.

Supervisor Jim Chapman, who opposes the State of Jefferson, led the dissent with an outspoken critique of the movement’s “misrepresentation of the facts.” And he scoffed at its call to “‘Let our people go’ – like Moses going across the desert.”

“Most of us don’t like the way government works ... but history is not on the side of this issue,” said Chapman, the board’s vice chairman.

Board Chairman Bob Pyle cast the other dissenting vote.

Lassen’s failure to approve outright support for the breakaway state momentarily stalls the effort.

Earlier this month, Lake County supervisors voted 3-2 to place support for the State of Jefferson on a countywide ballot scheduled for November 2016. Their resolution did not endorse any part of the standard breakaway state declaration.

In Tehama County, the 51st state movement garnered support from 56 percent of voters on a June 2014 ballot, while voters in Del Norte county rejected a similar measure with 59 percent of the vote.

Supervisors in five other Northern California counties have passed resolutions of support without placing the issue before voters.

The argument for greater rural representation is based on a 1964 Supreme Court case, Reynolds v. Sims, which ruled that state legislative districts must be roughly equal in population.

Mark Baird, a State of Jefferson spokesman, is challenging that ruling by soliciting support from 20 counties declaring that they have been harmed by unequal representation. He hopes to convince state and federal legislators that the current system of representation is unfair to rural residents and that they would be better served by a 51st state.

Chapman has proposed “a full-court press” aimed at modifying or overturning Reynolds v. Sims through direct legal action. That would restore representation without creating a new state, he said.

Baird wants a 51st state. Even though Lassen County postponed State of Jefferson support pending an election, he called the supervisors’ action “historic.”

“Lassen County has decided to move this process forward. It has preserved – should we win – that it will have a seat at the table,” Baird said.

He plans to hold town hall meetings later this month in Mendocino and Sierra counties.

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