Lake County voters will weigh in next year on the merits of splitting the state, an idea that has risen and died dozens of times since California was created in 1850.
A divided Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to put an advisory measure on the ballot asking voters whether there should be a 51st state, comprising rural counties in Northern California and southern Oregon.
In doing so, the board backed away from an earlier, tentative decision to sign a declaration directly asking the state Legislature to form a new state tentatively named Jefferson.
“The decision should be made by the voters and not the five of us,” said Supervisor Rob Brown, who has expressed support for the secession movement and creation of a new state.
It’s an old idea that recently has been resurrected.
There have been more than 220 recorded proposals to divide California into multiple states since its admission to the United States, according to newspaper reports.
They’ve been launched by California legislators, county officials and ordinary residents. They have included both Northern and Southern California counties, and the proposals have suggested the creation of up to six states.
During one of the more infamous but short-lived campaigns in 1941, a group of men brandishing hunting rifles stopped traffic on Highway 99 in Siskiyou County to hand out copies of a “Proclamation of Independence” for a state of Jefferson, according to the Siskiyou County website.
Political analysts have suggested the efforts stem from California’s sheer size and the diversity of its residents.
The movement’s proponents believe rural counties have been shortchanged by the state on representation and funding, a sentiment that apparently rang true for some of the supervisors.
“The government of California is disastrous; it’s destructive,” said Brown, one of three yes votes for the resolution.
“We don’t have a voice at the table,” said Supervisor Jim Comstock, who also voted in favor of the resolution.
Supervisors Tony Farrington and Jim Steele opposed the resolution.
“I will not vote for this. I’m a Californian,” Steele said.
Farrington and other opponents of secession say Lake County likely would lose, not gain, funding if there were a split because it currently benefits from the money generated by large urban areas.
“The geography does not make sense. The financials don’t make sense,” Farrington said.
Jefferson advocates contend their numbers — based on state figures — indicate the county would be better off financially.
Randy Sutton, co-chairman of Lake County’s effort to create a new state, said he’s disappointed the supervisors changed their minds about supporting the declaration but not that voters will be asked to weigh in.
“We expected it to go to a vote,” said Sutton, a retired certified financial planner and Upper Lake resident.
The original declaration Jefferson advocates sought from the board blasts the state and federal governments, accusing them of malfeasance, illegal taxation, property rights violations and excessive regulations.
It asks that state legislators either redress grievances or approve the participating counties’ withdrawal from the state.
Six rural counties — Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn, Yuba, Tehama and Sutter — have signed on to the declaration.
Efforts are underway for a movement in Mendocino County as well. A presentation on the state of Jefferson is scheduled for later this month at the Ukiah fairgrounds.