Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong discusses the underlying reasons of her support for the “State of Jefferson” proposal.
On Tuesday, a room full of constituents presented the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors with a proposed resolution expressing a desire to “withdraw Siskiyou County from the State of California” and to “start over” by forming a “New State.” According to the proposal, this “State of Jefferson” would be formed to represent the needs of its people. It would protect their rights and liberties, as well as the public health and safety of its people. In addition, it is envisioned that the state would bring new opportunities. The Resolution anticipates that other rural California counties may also desire to be included within the new state.
The movement to carve out a new state from California is not new. There have been roughly 45 such proposals since California’s inception. One of these was the State of Jefferson movement in 1941, which was extinguished by the advent of Pearl Harbor. That proposal included several counties in the superior California and southern Oregon region. Their symbolic flag featured a double cross on a gold pan. This represented the alienation and neglect that these counties felt from their respective distant state governments. A subsequent effort in 1992 included an advisory vote in 27 counties in favor of a splitting of the state of California.
It is fully recognized that a Board of Supervisors has no power or authority to unilaterally carve the county out of the state. That would require approval by the people, with concurrence by the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Putting aside that Herculean task and the fiscal wisdom of the creation of a largely rural state, let us examine the underlying reasons why such desperate measures would be desired by the people who came to us today.
Siskiyou County is large in size at 6,287 square miles. It is small in population at around 45,000 – classifying it as a “frontier” county. Federal and state ownerships remove 63% of the land from the county tax base which is used to provide services such as the Sheriff and the schools. Current public land management policies and endangered species designations have largely removed development of natural resources—of which are plentiful throughout our federal and state lands—from the economic base. This has resulted in an aging population, very high unemployment and poverty rates.
The foundation of the economic base of Siskiyou County is, and always has been natural resources – logging, farming, mining and recreation. We now find ourselves in a vortex of lawsuits and restrictive regulations that redirects our focus to pure survival. These “intolerable acts” are suffocating our small businesses and placing enormous stress on communities and family stability. Saw mills have closed, water is turned off to farms, mining is placed under a moratorium and burning forests choke our skies with acrid smoke.
A good percentage of the farms are in family ownership by the descendants of early California pioneers who have stewarded them for as many as six generations. A number of the logging and mining families are also from pioneer stock. Most of the people of Siskiyou County share very traditional frontier values – prizing individual liberty, the integrity of private property rights, land stewardship and small town volunteerism. They represent a vibrant historic culture once celebrated in Louis L’Amour novels and western films.
A basic fact is that our Assemblyman represents seven rural counties. Our state Senatorial district currently includes 12 counties and the new redistricting will place Siskiyou County in with the Sacramento metropolitan area. Compare that with Long Beach, which has one Assemblywoman or Santa Barbara, which has one state Senator. It is a fact that we have little input into decisions affecting us. We have no clout in how state resources are allocated to meet our needs and very little to say about the myriad regulations and fees under which we are struggling. It also seems that California bureaucrats are succeeding in some perverse quest to replace local elected government with unelected regional planning and management councils.
It is a fact that the majority of California’s population values our local natural resources more as habitat for some charismatic creature they read about in Ranger Rick than as the lifeblood of historic cultures that have organically developed out of an intimate daily relationship with the land. Our voice in Sacramento is like a shout in a wind tunnel.
On Tuesday, I calculated that I have spent a career spanning 24 years working “within the system,” submitting public comments, testifying at hearings, writing reams of letters and attending thousands of meetings all for one goal – self-government of, by and for a people I have loved so well. I now must give testimony to the steady deterioration of our economy, our individual liberties and our property rights. I have come to the revelation that this marriage with the State of California is not working for us.