Downstate sophisticates are having a great time poking fun at Siskiyou County these days because its Board of Supervisors voted in favor of an obviously symbolic measure endorsing secession from California and creation of a new state from far-Northern California and southern Oregon. One editorialist suggested it may be a “juvenile stunt.” Other commentators said the state should let the sparsely populated, relatively poor county on its northern border depart.
Siskiyou isn't going anywhere, obviously. And the mythical State of Jefferson, first proposed seven decades ago, will remain a myth. However, Siskiyou's symbolic rebellion says something about California's cultural fragmentation into a collection of often adversarial enclaves defined by geography, wealth, ideology, ethnicity, age and other demographic factors. Moreover, it says something about a political system that exacerbates those differences, rather than reconciling them.
California politics are utterly dominated by urban liberals and their constituent interest groups, such as unions and environmental groups, as this year's legislative session demonstrated again.
Those who live in Siskiyou County and other rural areas see liberal, urban-oriented legislators imposing one-size-fits-all policies that conflict with their local economies and/or preferred lifestyles. Flashpoints include gun control, timber industry regulation, fire-protection fees, a virtual ban on gold mining, water and myriad environmental decrees.
They feel — with good reason — alienated, ignored and powerless, and they resent it. The secession resolution was the only way they could express that sense of being second-class citizens.
Ironically, as Siskiyou's residents seethe at what they consider to be heavy handed and arbitrary actions in Sacramento, those they see as their oppressors are complaining about heavy-handed and arbitrary actions in Washington. Gov. Jerry Brown et al. are fuming over federal court decrees on reducing overcrowding in state prisons, saying they are being treated unfairly and being forced to do something they don't want and shouldn't have to do.
They're also chafing at U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's warning that if California suspends academic testing in schools, it would violate federal law and could threaten tens of billions of dollars in federal education aid. And they complain about federal decrees that undermine public pension reforms and about the effects of federal policies on marijuana use and immigration.
California is contending, in effect, that it should be allowed to tailor its policies to its conditions without federal interference. And that's what the residents of Siskiyou County and other rural areas would like as well.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee.