Rebuffed at every turn by state lawmakers, supporters of the movement to establish a separate “State of Jefferson” in Northern California have a new approach: Make the Legislature bigger.
Citizens for Fair Representation, a group affiliated with the secession movement, filed suit in federal court this week against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, arguing that the system of apportioning legislative districts equally by population has diluted the votes of rural residents and denied them representation at the Capitol.
Jefferson proponents, who aim to carve a state out of 21 counties stretching north of Sacramento to the Oregon border, have long argued that their communities lack sufficient voice in state government and that their unique concerns have been ignored.
The plaintiffs contend that 40 state senators and 80 Assembly members are not enough for a state that has grown to nearly 40 million people. They seek to bring back the pre-1966 Senate structure in which each county had one representative and to add more members to the Assembly so that districts encompass far fewer residents.
Mark Baird, a retired pilot from Siskiyou County and movement leader, said there are many ideas on how that would look, some of which involve adding hundreds or thousands of legislators. “We’re being persecuted by the state,” he said, and revising legislative apportionment “helps us with the checks and balances of the tyranny of the majority.”
Baird hopes the lawsuit will force state officials to confront the seriousness of their desire to leave California. Previous efforts, such as a proposed bill last year to grant sovereignty to the State of Jefferson that no legislator was willing to carry, made little headway.
“Not one single legislator...would even bother to give us five minutes of their time,” Baird said. “If all we get out of this lawsuit is more and better representation, then that’s a good day for everybody.
Padilla’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
A settlement in their favor, Baird added, could also serve as leverage with state officials, who might be willing to finally let Jeffersonians secede rather than comply with what Baird believes would be the more cumbersome task of reorganizing the Legislature.
That’s unlikely, according to Nathaniel Persily, a redistricting expert at Stanford Law School, who called the lawsuit “a nonstarter.” A 1964 Supreme Court decision threw out geography-based apportionment schemes like California’s and required that all state legislative districts be equal in population.
The “one person, one vote” approach has become “so entrenched,” Persily said. “It’s not even open for debate at this point.”