Secession season happens periodically in some parts of California, where eight times in the last 30 years there have been movements to split the state.
Perhaps the silliest — and the least fruitful — attempt came in the summer of 2014, when Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper tried and failed to put a "Six Californias" proposition onto this fall's ballot. Draper spent $5.2 million on signature-gathering, but couldn't come close to the needed number of voter autographs. It was the worst failure in the modern era for any proposed citizen initiative with respectable financial support.
One of Draper's six states was called Jefferson, in deference to a movement that has drawn some support for a state by that name covering some of Northern California and Southern Oregon.
While the rest of Draper's putative states (West California, South California, Silicon Valley, etc.) have died away silently, Jefferson supporters continue on. They carried the green, yellow and black flags of their completely peaceful secession movement this winter outside the state Capitol in Sacramento, featuring two X's. The symbol stands for the notion that rural counties have been double-crossed by the current one-person, one-vote system that sees urban areas around San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego dominate politics in the full-fledged California.
But Jefferson has not kept all the support it once had in rural California, which bodes poorly for its future. For example, late last year, Lake County supervisors voted unanimously to rescind a prior vote placing an advisory state of Jefferson question on the county's November ballot. Supervisors said state responses to last year's wildfires in that county and factors like access to California's university systems and California branding for farm products swayed them to reject Jefferson.
Sierra and Trinity counties — essential parts of mythical Jefferson — also voted to stick with California, noting "Jefferson proponents have failed to prove…" that forming a new state would solvetheir problems.
For sure, if Jefferson split off, taking a total of 21 mostly-rural counties out of California, residents would lose a lot of state services, after current state resources were divided. That's because any such division would have to be based on population, not land area, so Jefferson would get a tiny fraction of what's available to it today, from firefighting helicopters to health care services.
But Jefferson supporters won't soon go away. In fact, they or their ideological forebears have been around for many decades. Almost all the 28 other state-splitting efforts before 2014 all drew boundary lines putting the San Francisco Bay area in a new northern state. That, however, would defeat the effort of today's rural activists to evade urban domination.
The upshot is that if Jefferson broke away this year, its largest cities might be places like Medford, Ashland and Klamath Falls, Ore. Should it include Shasta and Butte counties, Redding and Chico could become its biggest cities. Should Placer County join, as some there would like, Roseville would be the metropolis.
The activists are frustrated with economic regulations they say stifle growth and with gun controls some say can leave residents of their thinly-populated areas at the mercy of armed criminals because peace officers often need long times to reach remote areas. There are answers to their arguments, but none that satisfies activists.
So backers of Jefferson took their proposed secession plan to the Legislature early this year, where it got a modicum of press coverage but was never taken seriously.
"We live in a state led by liars," one Siskiyou County activist declaimed on the Capitol steps. "They have no empathy for what it takes to live our lives."
He may be right. But the odds of Jefferson becoming reality remain little better than the chance that Draper might drop another $5 million into an effort to revive "Six Californias."
No new state has been carved from an existing one since pro-Union West Virginia divorced Confederate Virginia in the Civil War era. While rural feelings might run high over new firefighting taxes, there's no way a fee like that will ever arouse the deep feelings slavery did 155 years ago.
Which meansbackers of Jefferson would do well to look for ways of solving their problems within the existing state — and that state officials ought to take their complaints more seriously than they do now.