To the always amusing, ever growing list of “only in California” oddities, this isn’t one of them: Last week the Siskiyou County’s Board of Supervisors approved a motion to secede from the Golden State and form a new State of Jefferson (as in Thomas, not George, though “Movin’ on Up” would make for a nifty state anthem).
The action, which was approved by a 4-1 vote, wasn’t unique in that it was only last month when a band of disgruntled northeastern Colorado counties floated the idea of becoming the American flag’s 51st star. Other movements are afoot in Vermont and Maryland.
Nor is this the first time Californians have wanted to subdivide their state; they have what would be the world’s eight-largest economy, with a population roughly the same as Poland’s. No less than 45 proposals for chopping up California have emerged over the course of the state’s 160-year history. A recent one would have introduced a north-south divide along the commuter-hostile Tehachapi Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, creating a mostly Streisand-friendly “Western California” of 13 coastal counties, and a more Limbaugh-friendly “South California” of 13 predominately inland counties.
But in the state that popularized no-fault divorce, lawmakers have shown scant interest in breaking up the state’s crazy quilt of 58 counties. Nor would a congressional supermajority ever sign off on a reallotment of precious electoral votes (more on that in a moment).
So what’s eating the good people of Siskiyou Country? Surprisingly, it’s not the “usual suspects” of the California whine industry: steep taxes, exorbitant housing prices, gridlocked roads, struggling K-12 schools. Instead, it’s what Siskiyou locals refer to as “five r’s” of misery imposed by state and federal governments: too much regulation coming out of Washington and Sacramento, restrictions on rights like the 2nd Amendment, representation in a large area with little political clout, regionalism (zoning and planning taken away from local government) and, finally, restoration of limited government.
In this regard, welcome to a California that’s divided not only by fractures in the earth, but by a cultural and philosophical schism that increasingly leaves non-liberal, non-metropolitan, non-big government Californians – i.e., folks who live more than 50 miles from the coast – out in the cold.
And in Siskiyou’s case, the deck is especially stacked.
Covering a vast amount of northernmost Shasta Cascade California, Siskiyou is 50 percent larger than Los Angeles County with not even one two-hundredth of the population. So much for having any kind of voting clout in Sacramento.
Fitting for a county that’s home to the Salmon River, it swims against the state’s political current: in 2012, it preferred Mitt Romney to President Obama and rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-raising Proposition 30. Indeed, the county’s political split – 40 percent registered Republicans vs. 30 percent registered Democrats – is the mirror opposite of the statewide partisan makeup.
While California slowly recovers from its prolonged recession, rural Siskiyou isn’t sharing in the comeback (11.5% unemployment up north vs. 7% in Silicon Valley). Natural resources – farming, logging, mining – are the backbone of the local economy. Lawsuits and state and federal over-regulation (limited water rights and, most recently, a $150 annual fire-prevention fee) continue to put a damper on such growth.