An overflow crowd of about 400 people gathered Tuesday night in El Dorado County and tried to persuade the Board of Supervisors to support a plan to secede from California and join the proposed state of Jefferson.
Supporters carried flags, signs and fans with the movement’s “XX” logo, which originally stood for being double-crossed by state leaders in Sacramento and Salem, Ore. Backers include El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, who testified in support at the board meeting.
In messages often laced with references to revolution, Jefferson backers said California state leaders have ignored their concerns about over-regulation, gun rights, illegal immigration and other issues in rural parts of the state. They complained that leaders representing California’s heavily populated urban areas – generally Democrats – set the agenda for the entire state.
“It’s about representation, pure and simple,” said Mark Baird, a spokesman for the Jefferson movement. “We don’t have any and we need some.”
In 1941, angry residents banded together to stage a secessionist drive in Northern California and southern Oregon to create a new state of Jefferson. That movement failed, but rural activists have taken up the effort in recent years by calling on county leaders to support secession. Though the original Jefferson hugged the California-Oregon border, the latest drive has focused on rural Northern California counties with conservative voters all the way down to Tuolumne County.
El Dorado is one of 16 counties where Jefferson supporters are trying to get supervisors to approve a “declaration of withdrawal” from the state. El Dorado County is the group’s first attempt at garnering an endorsement in the Sacramento region; they hope to make a similar pitch in Placer County next month. Supervisors in eight counties have approved such measures.
The declarations have no legal standing and are an attempt to build political support for the secession, Baird said. The group expects a state legislator to introduce a bill in January calling for the formation of Jefferson. After the bill’s inevitable demise, Jefferson advocates will take their movement for statehood to the courts, said Baird, a Siskiyou County resident.
Supervisors did not indicate their views during the meeting, and it isn’t clear whether they will formally vote on the group’s request. Board Chairman Brian Veerkamp said Wednesday he has not formed a position on the issue and needs to receive more information before deciding whether to back the plan. Despite assurances from Baird about no consequences for El Dorado County in endorsing the plan, Veerkamp said he wonders “what signal that will send to the people we have to work with at the state?”
D’Agostini told the board he supports secession and asked the board to approve the group’s request for a declaration of withdrawal. He said rural counties are not properly represented in state government, and El Dorado County needs to participate in the debate for change.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” he said. “It’s in the best interests of El Dorado County and the citizens we serve to be at the table.”
Baird and other Jefferson supporters blame the lack of representation in state government on a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Reynolds v. Sims, which found that Alabama legislative districts had to be based on population. In Jefferson, representation would more closely resemble Congress with a senate based on geography – each county having a senator – and an assembly based on population, Baird said.
This form of government would prevent the imbalance of power that exists in Sacramento, where Los Angeles has far more power than most of Northern California, he said.
Placerville attorney Ted Phillips, a member of a group opposing the secessionists, Keep it California, challenged Baird’s argument. He said supporting a form of government found unconstitutional makes no sense. Keep it California also challenged a financial report produced by Jefferson backers, saying it contains inaccurate figures.
The Jefferson movement has committees in each of the counties where it seeks support, including El Dorado. Several county residents spoke Tuesday night in favor of the proposal, echoing Baird’s arguments about underrepresentation at the capital and an increase in regulations they say burden small businesses.