state of jefferson

A farmer near Interstate 5 in Northern California declares his support for a 51st state.

While the immediate threat to some 200,000 Californians has been the focus of the Oroville Dam crisis, the problem accentuates a growing rift between the state’s conservative, mostly rural northern counties and the coastal and urban populations of the south — the sunny, palm-tree graced California of American dreams that has become firmly entrenched in progressive politics.

Oroville Dam's damaged spillway (William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources)

Oroville Dam’s damaged spillway (William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources)

A movement to turn nearly two-dozen northern counties into the the state of Jefferson, though still a long-shot, is gaining steam. Meanwhile, the election of Donald Trump has spurred a move from the left to secede from the union.

The campaign committee Yes California says it has mobilized 8,000 workers to collect the 585,407 signatures required to put secession on a March 2019 special election ballot. A recent Reuters poll found 32 percent were in support of California seceding, up from 20 percent in 2014.

USA Today noted the problems with the Oroville Dam expose the north-south rift.

The dam north of Sacramento irrigates downstream farms, including in the breadbasket Central Valley and provides drinking water for Los Angeles. While the rest of the state holds the bulk of the wealth, without the water provided by the Shasta Valley in the north, the Bay Area and the south could not function.

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The threat of a dam failure earlier this month prompted the temporary evacuation of 200,000 residents of “Jefferson” living downstream. It didn’t help that the state ignored a warning 12 years ago that the damaged emergency spillway at the center of the current problem needed reinforcement.

The national media that have converged on tiny Oroville in the past month pass a sign heading into town urging residents to support the creation of a state of Jefferson, named for the third president of the United States.

‘A reality in our lifetime?’

Earlier this month, the Union-Democrat Newspaper of Sonora, California, in the Sierra foothills east of San Francisco, featured the Jefferson movement.

Jim McGettigan, a 76-year-old retired sheriff’s deputy who owns 10 acres on the outskirts of the Jamestown, near Sonora, contrasted the Jefferson movement with the “Cal-exit” movement seeking to turn the Golden State into a new country.

“They want to get away from Trump,” he said. “As conservative Americans, we would rather be part of the United States.”

The U.S. Constitution requires the approval of other states and then a vote of Congress for any state to secede.

An initiative to split California into six parts failed to make it onto the ballot two years ago.

state of jefferson graphic

The State of Jefferson website says the movement has the support of 21 California counties (

Commenting on the Cal-exit movement, the left-leaning Web magazine Salon said it’s “worth considering what would happen if this long shot became a reality.”

“You know, kind of like our reality-TV president who was never going to win the White House,” the website said.

“It may be logistically implausible now. However, if four or eight years of Trump continue to jettison California values from the mainstream and represent long-term irreconcilable differences for blue and red American states, secession could be a reality in our lifetime.”

The Washington Post pointed out that the leader of the major organizing body advocating secession from the union, Yes California, happens to live in Russia, of all places.

Louis J. Marinelli, 30, insists the Russian government has nothing to do with the effort to remove California from the U.S. in response to Trump winning the White House. He explains that he met his Russian wife while working in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and visa issues required them to return.

jefferson-flagFor the Jefferson movement to succeed in turning Northern California counties — they count 21 that have signed a declaration document — into a state about the size of North Carolina would require approval from the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

The new state would comprise only about 1.7 million of California’s 38.8 million residents.

On its website, State of Jefferson cites Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which defines how to form a new state out of an existing state. It’s been done four times, the group points out. The last time it was done was more than 150 years ago when West Virginia split from Virginia in 1861.

To date, however, the group has not found a legislator willing to introduce a bill to initiate the process.

Mark Baird, regarded as a spokesman for the State of Jefferson, told the New York Daily News that if the California Legislature continues to ignore the movement, as he expects, it will “pursue a judicial remedy.”

The remedy would be to sue California for lack of representation and dilution of vote, possibly leading to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

‘A form of tyranny’

The Jefferson movement argues the state power base of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay Area has given California the second highest taxes overall in the United States and the highest personal income tax, sales tax and gas tax.


California’s Central Valley

On its website, the group states:

Government was built by the people to serve the people. Look at your government today and ask yourself are you being served? Is the government of California serving you or itself? Do you want to return to a Constitutional Republic where everyone has a voice in their government? That feeling has led you here, to help define the direction of our new state and fulfill the promises of our Founding Fathers for ourselves and our posterity.

Historically, proposals for a state of Jefferson have included rural counties in southern Oregon and as well as in California’s north.

A New York Daily News feature captured some of the color of the movement in a visit to Yreka, California, which is Jefferson’s provisional capital.

At a barber shop, Michael Adams explained how his mining business got shut down when Sacramento banned the suction-dredge techniques used by local prospectors, charging they were endangering the Coho salmon.

“They just took my livelihood away based on speculation and falsehoods,” Adams told the Daily News.

“California takes away our property, takes away our rights. That’s a form of tyranny. If we govern ourselves, at least we’re responsible to ourselves.”

Ray Haupt, a member of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors who worked with the U.S. Forest Service for 33 years, said the region’s timber is being managed on the basis of politics rather than science.

“I think in the United States in general, there’s a disconnect between folks who live in a city and the people who live in the rural communities,” he said.

“I don’t think a lot of folks understand where their food comes from, where the raw products come from that support their lives,” Haupt told the Daily News.

“All they see when they come to the rural counties is what they consider backward people who are doing something on the land that they don’t like to see.”

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