Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors special meeting to hear arguments for and against the proposed State of Jefferson will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mother Lode Fairgrounds, Manzanita building, 220 Southgate Road, Sonora
People on both sides of the political debate about over 20 rural counties in Northern California to break off and form a 51st state are gearing up for a battle of ideas Tuesday night at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora.
At a special meeting that starts at 6 p.m., the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to hear presentations from State of Jefferson supporters as well as Keep It California, a nonpartisan political action committee formed to oppose the split-state movement.
“Any good issue worthwhile is going to have opposing views, so I look forward to sitting and listening to what Keep It California has to say,” said David Titchenal, of Soulsbyville, who coordinates the State of Jefferson formation committee in Tuolumne County.
The movement has gained a following in the county over the past two years. It’s virtually impossible to go anywhere without seeing the proposed state’s seal popping up on bumper stickers, T-shirts, hats and signs outside of people’s homes.
Support for the State of Jefferson was also highly visible at a Feb. 22 town hall meeting held at Sonora High School by U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville. Many people in the packed 569-seat auditorium were wearing apparel and holding signs in support of the movement.
Titchenal was among those who signed a declaration to become a part of the State of Jefferson last year without the board’s support.
With the state Legislature declining to formally take up the issue for consideration up to this point, Titchenal said the movement has formed a new group called Citizens for Fair Representation that plans to file a lawsuit against the state in federal court.
The lawsuit alleges the state’s capping of legislative seats at 120 in 1879 has led to a dilution in representation for rural counties through explosive population growth in urban areas over the past century.
Titchenal said the end goal is ultimately to get the courts to agree that the state needs to remedy the situation, either by allowing the counties to split off and form their own state or coming up with a newer, more fair distribution of representation.
One idea offered by Titchenal would be to give each county an equal amount of Senate seats, much like in the U.S. Congress.
However, others who live within the proposed Jefferson boundaries are skeptical about the idea of breaking apart from a state that has the sixth-largest economy in the world.
Cindy Ellsmore, treasurer for Keep It California, said she plans to provide economic data during her scheduled presentation Tuesday that she believes will illustrate the county’s reliance on tax revenue from the state and federal government.
The main focus of the opposition has been on economic concerns, said Kevin Hendrick, of Crescent City, who serves as the PAC’s chairman but will not be attending Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’ve tried to appeal to people’s common sense across the political spectrum,” said Hendrick. “If county board of supervisors is approached, one of the things we advise them to look at is the economics.”
Hendrick said the movement’s growing popularity underscores how the state Legislature needs to start paying more attention to rural counties, but he believes threatening to secede is the wrong way to go about expressing that.
Many of the rural counties depend on large amounts of state funding in times of disaster, such as the 2013 Rim Fire in Tuolumne County, so Hendrick said it’s best to foster a working relationship with the state.
The PAC doesn’t believe the State of Jefferson will ever become reality, so they have started to shift their efforts more on educating and lobbying urban legislators about issues facing rural areas.
“They don’t hate us,” Hendrick said. “There are things we know that don’t work for us as well as they do in urban areas, but our position is we need to educate them.”
Hendrick said the entire state would do better if rural counties were more self sufficient, so they are lobbying on issues like transitioning from traditional industries — such as mining and logging — to more modern ones — such as tourism.
Another factor limiting economic growth in rural areas is the lack of reliable affordable high-speed Internet everywhere, Hendrick said.
“We’re going to show up at every county they (the State of Jefferson movement) go to, and we’re watching, but now we want to go back to these counties and ask about the the issues so we can advocate for them with urban legislators,” Hendrick said.
The board will not be required to take any action Tuesday night but will be asked to provide staff with direction on how it would like to proceed with regard to the State of Jefferson. Possible directions could include coming back to the board at a later meeting with a declaration of support, opposition, put the issue on the ballot for an advisory election, or taking no position.
Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn, Sutter and Yuba are the five counties out of the 23 proposed for the State of Jefferson where the respective boards have endorsed breaking off from California. Voters in Tehama County approved support for the would-be new state, while those in Lassen and Del Norte counties rejected it.
Boards in the 15 other counties either rejected, took no action or have yet to consider the issue.