May 21, 2016
By Joe Szydlowski of the Redding Record Searchlight
The state of Jefferson movement may seem to have gone quiet. But make no mistake, it is still kicking — and working toward its goal of turning the North State into the 51st state.
Its supporters cite a litany of grievances with Sacramento as a reason to break with the Golden State. But underpinning those criticisms is under-representation: would-be Jefferson voters have little say in California’s population-based legislature.
They’ve proposed two possible fixes: a new state and litigation.
A new state would allow a new government that balances rural and more urban areas, they say. They’ve been gathering signatures in North State counties to present to the legislature as proof of the area’s desire to leave.
Opponents, however, argue the state would be destitute because so many depend on California’s generous anti-poverty programs, such as its supplements to federal disability payments, and questions arise about water rights.
A 2013 Legislative Analyst’s Office report found that one version of Jefferson that didn’t include the Sacramento metro area has about 2.5 percent of California’s population but pays only 1.9 percent of its income taxes. It also found Jefferson had a higher share, per capita, of the Medi-Cal caseload than most other parts of California.
Should secession stall, supporters have a plan B: Sue to overturn a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would return to one state senator per county. The landmark case established that representation should be based on population rather than geography.
Shasta County supervisors previously declined to support the state of Jefferson, but five other counties have signed on.
Nine people are competing for three seats on the Shasta County Board of Supervisor. We asked them what they thought about the state of Jefferson and the supervisors’ role.
Leonard Moty (incumbent)
Moty, who voted against supporting a split in 2014, said he’s listened to Jefferson supporters at meetings and one on one. He said he supports representation that balances the urban and rural areas, including the idea of one state senator per county.
But the idea of leaving California is divorced from reality in both economics — the area takes more than it gives — and more tangible issues, such as who controls the water supply, he said. He’s also skeptical of supporters’ financial analysis of Jefferson’s tax revenue.
He suggests focusing energy on increasing representation. One way is mimicking Brian Dahle’s method: reach across the aisle to cooperate on advancing the North State’s interests and educate Southern Californians on how distinct Northern Californians’ needs are.
“He’s gone to the districts and invited them up here, helping people understand it’s different up here,” he said.
Venus said he likes some ideas Jefferson proponents put forward, such as lower taxes and better representation, and agrees in principal.
But he doesn’t see a 51st state anytime soon.
“They’re not going to split California in two,” he said.
He questions Jefferson’s financial viability and supporters’s claims that they could bring back blue-collar jobs. But while he thinks the state of Jefferson nothing more than a pipe dream, he said taxes need to be lower and suggests a tax on cannabis sales could make up for lost revenue.
Pam Giacomini (Incumbent)
Jefferson supporters have understandable grievances with Sacramento, Giacomini said. That includes Northern California’s contingent of lawmakers in the state Legislature, which has too few representatives who have too little say.
But a new state requires a long process with many moving parts and requires both California’s Legislature and the U.S. Congress to agree to it, and then additional steps to establish the state.
That long, difficult process makes Giacomini doubt Jefferson’s chances.
“I don’t think it can actually happen,” she said.
As for the plan B lawsuit, she said “I would be interested to see how it moves forward.”
In June 2014, Giacomini was one of four Shasta County supervisors who voted against supporting a breakaway.
“I support the state of Jefferson movement,” said Chandler, who said she’d be satisfied with either a split with California or a compromise that leads to the North State having a bigger say in governing.
But if it comes to a split, Jefferson would be viable with an economy bigger than New Mexico’s, she said. She cited both a lengthy report published by the Jefferson movement that estimates about $8 billion in tax revenue from property, income and sales taxes at current levels and a 2013 analysis by the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office of an initiative to turn California into six states. That LAO report, which was not in-depth, used a smaller version of Jefferson with 950,000 people. It found Jefferson would be among the poorest states in the country, but its 2012 per-capita income would be higher than eight other states, including New Mexico.
But it isn’t clear whether that analysis accounted for the typically high-wage California state jobs.
Jefferson proponents’ frustration with California is understandable and Rickert said that, as an agriculture and business owner, she shares it. “I’m extremely familiar with the regulations,” she said.
But embarking on a path to a solo state would be long, complex and arduous, she said. It also means a loss of a great deal of funding for county agencies from the state.
“A lot of our dollars do come from Sacramento,” she said. To support leaving, “it would have to be a convincing argument for me that we wouldn’t go backwards.”
She would prefer to read an in-depth, impartial analysis of what Jefferson would gain — and lose — financially before throwing her support behind the movement.
She said she’s not familiar enough with the movement’s alternative proposal, the lawsuit, to support or oppose it yet.
Bill Schappell (Incumbent)
In June 2014, Schappell cast the lone vote in favor of supporting the state of Jefferson movement’s efforts to split with California.
Now, he says the movement demonstrates North State residents’ disaffection with state laws.
“The state of Jefferson… shows a movement of distrust with California and their laws,” he said.
Those laws, he said, are passed with little public review and no accounting for the diversity of California’s different areas and their unique needs.
“The North State and the South State are two different entities,” he said.
But he said he doesn’t know whether or not the movement will succeed — it depends on the response they get from Sacramento, he said.
As for the lawsuit to return the state Legislature to one senator per county, Schappell said he hopes that succeeds. It wouldn’t level the playing field, he said, but it would be fairer than it is now.
Albert said he is open to the idea of a new state.
But he cautions his support depends on what that new state — and its finances — would look like.
“I feel that it would be a good thing to do, if certain criteria are met,” he said. “If those are not met, then we’d be one of the poorest states in the nation, still dependent on federal money.”
Among those requirements: Financial stability with a sound, diverse economy that includes small industry-type business, agriculture, forestry and other natural resources and tourism.
That also means that, before giving his support, he’d also need to know which counties would be included. Would Jefferson get Napa Valley’s world-renowned vineyards and wineries and the north Bay for shipping are some of the key questions, he said.
As for the lawsuit, he said he considers that a viable solution that would add another set of checks and balances.
Morgan said he’s open to hearing from Jeffersonians about their arguments in favor of separation, but he would need far more analysis before signing on to the movement.
“I’m not sure about the finances of the state of Jefferson. I’ve been given some facts and figures, but not enough to make an informed decision,” he said. “I’m always willing to listen to any information that I can gather. That way I can make a good, intelligent decision.”
He said he’s interested in the lawsuit to return California’s Senate to a per-county representation. But he doesn’t see that as a silver bullet to slay Northern California’s legislative woes.
“I guess it would be better than nothing, but I still think Southern California would win out, especially with the larger populations,” he said.
Wally St. Clair
St. Clair said he’s not ready to support severing ties with California.
“As a supervisor, I would have to see some very definite numbers and proposals,” he said.
He said he understands people’s concerns that California’s government is too big. But he said he would worry that Jefferson, which would have to write a new constitution and laws, would provide an opportunity for the powerbrokers to possibly increase the size of government.
In addition, he brought up several other concerns, such as how would it logistically happen, what would it regulate, how would those regulations look and what would Jefferson’s finances look like.
“I’d have to see some very concrete benefits and what the downsides are,” he said.
He’s open to listening to the movement about the lawsuit alternative, but he would need to know more.
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