Jim McGettigan never considered himself one for political movements.
However, that was before the State of Jefferson came along.
“I’ve never campaigned for anything or written letters to the editor, but this is something I wanted to get behind,” said McGettigan, who has owned his 10-acre property on the outskirts of Jamestown since 1973.
The 76-year-old retired sheriff’s deputy proudly sports stickers of the would-be 51st state’s seal — a yellow circle with two black Xs inside — on the rear windows of his family’s multiple pickup trucks.
McGettigan also has a large, roughly 6-foot-by-3-foot sign in his yard, visible to a heavily traveled portion of Highway 108, promoting the website of the movement’s Tuolumne County chapter with the message: “Restore freedom, lower taxes, and common-sense government.”
“We’re going to keep supporting them any way we can,” said McGettigan while taking a break from working on one of his trucks Wednesday. “Everyone I know is for it.”
The point of the movement is for 21 rural counties in northern California to break off and form their own state. Supporters feel that the makeup of representation in the state Legislature is too lopsided in favor of large population centers.
While a total of 15 state senators represent various portions of Los Angeles County, nine of the counties where people have established standing committees to push for inclusion in the State of Jefferson are represented by a state senator.
With more than 10 million people in LA County, that breaks down to one senator per every 678,019 by the raw numbers. The nine rural counties represented by a single senator have a combined population of 894,892.
McGettigan said the disparity gives urban areas a louder voice on legislative issues that can greatly impact rural places as well, such as water rights, environmental regulations, taxation and gun control.
“It’s 99 percent about representation,” McGettigan said of the movement.
McGettigan and other State of Jefferson supporters reject a growing movement for California to secede from the United States called “Calexit,” a reference to the United Kingdom’s historic “Brexit” vote to split from the European Union last year.
A Reuters poll conducted last week found 32 percent were in support of California seceding, up from 20 percent in 2014.
Many observers have attributed the increase likely to the election of Republican President Donald Trump, whom Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton trounced in California by 30 percentage points.
Trump won by more than 20 percentage points in both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, which are markedly more Republican than the more populous coastal and urban communities.
“They want to get away from Trump,” McGettigan said. “As conservative Americans, we would rather be part of the United States.”
How the potential for the state with the seventh largest economy in the world seceding from the union could affect the Jefferson movement is still an unknown.
Last week, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla gave his approval for pro-cession supporters to begin gathering signatures for possible inclusion on the 2018 election ballot. They need to gather at least 585,407 signatures from registered voters in the state to qualify.
Supporters of the State of Jefferson have taken to distributing newsletters and writing op-eds against the idea of secession from the U.S.
“Calexit wants more of what we’re already getting from California,” said David Titchenal, who coordinates the State of Jefferson chapter in Tuolumne County. “We’re already faced with a supermajority of Democrats, so we’re faced with more government bureaucracies and taxes in order to bring in more immigrants, restrictions on gun rights and forced vaccinations.”
Titchenal said State of Jefferson supporters have already formed various committees to craft the proposed state’s constitution, including ones related to law and justice, health care and transportation.
One of the ideas is to give counties the federal money that comes to the state for things like education and maintaining roads.
“A differentiator between California and Jefferson would be that the power would go back to the counties,” Titchenal said. “Our supervisors would become much more powerful in the State of Jefferson because their budgets would be so much bigger.”
The new state would also be among the poorest in the nation based on per capita personal income, according to a 2014 report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.
According to the report, the proposed state of Jefferson — which at the time did not include Tuolumne and Calaveras counties — would have a per capita person income of about $36,000, which would be the second lowest in the nation behind Mississippi.
Jefferson would also be saddled with a portion of California’s state debt that would cost up to $500 million over the next 30 years, according to Titchenal.
One idea to “jump start” the new state’s economy would be to eliminate the corporate tax, Titchenal said. Another he mentioned would be to reduce regulations that he and many others blame for keeping the logging and mining industries in the county mostly dormant for decades.
“Jefferson would almost immediately from day one become more prosperous than now and one reason for that would be getting control of our natural resources,” he said. “Tuolumne County used to have a vibrant logging industry, but we’ve just been shut down.”
The Tuolumne County chapter for the State of Jefferson movement plans to present its vision to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors at a meeting March 7 at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds.
They will also host a fundraiser Feb. 25 at the fairgrounds.
Titchenal said he’s spoken to each of the supervisors and believes that three are in favor, one is on the fence and one is opposed. He declined to name names.
For the past year, local formation committees have been holding meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the RE/MAX Gold building in downtown Sonora. A monthly town hall meeting is hosted by the group at 6 p.m. every fourth Wednesday of the month in the Board of Supervisors meeting room at the County Administration Center in Sonora.
Opponents of the split-state plan formed a nonpartisan political action committee called Keep it California that has shown little activity on its website or Facebook page over the past year. There is no one on the PAC’s website listed as a contact for Tuolumne or Calaveras counties.
Cindy Ellsmore represents Sierra County and serves as the PAC’s chairwoman. She said in an email Wednesday that she and her group plan on giving a presentation to the board at the March 7 meeting as well.
Ellsmore could not be reached for comment by telephone Wednesday.