After hearing from both sides of the State of Jefferson debate, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors narrowed the scope of a study to look at the potential economic impacts from joining the secession movement.
The board held a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday at the County Administration Center, where Jefferson supporters had requested time to explain that they never intended to have the county spend time and resources investigating the financial viability of their plan to form a 51st state with 20 other rural Northern California counties.
County staff was previously directed by the board at a well-attended March 7 meeting to analyze whether the county could feasibly afford to leave a state with the sixth-largest economy in the world.
The analysis would have ultimately determined whether the board would hold a special election over the issue, which could cost an estimated $75,000.
On Tuesday, the board rescinded their previous request and asked the County Counsel’s Office to instead look at the potential costs and legal merits of signing onto a federal lawsuit being filed by Jefferson supporters that gets to the heart of their concern — a lack of representation in the state Legislature when compared to big cities.
“While we may be pulling back on the idea of the special election, we will be utilizing some county resources in moving us forward,” said Board Chairwoman Sherri Brennan, supervisor for District 1. “I think we’re all clear that we’re not going to do this without some resources being utilized from the county.”
The lawsuit against California is being filed by Citizens for Fair Representations, a nonprofit organization backed by Jefferson supporters that’s not specifically seeking the splitting up of the state.
Instead, the organization’s lawsuit aims to overturn a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that decided representatives in both chambers of state Legislatures must be apportioned equally based on population in the legislative districts unlike the United States Senate where each state gets two senators.
Jefferson supporters say the ruling coupled with a 120-member limit on the number of representatives in the California State Legislature, which was imposed in 1879 when the state had fewer than 1 million people, have diluted the voice of smaller, rural areas as populations have grown exponentially in urban ones.
“First of all, the lawsuit … is not to present the State of Jefferson as an entire entity, it is merely a concept at this point that we have to solve our lack of representation,” said Walt Bladh, a Jefferson supporter who lives in Jamestown.
“The lawsuit simply asks that we be given some form of representation, and we’re hoping that would be somewhere in the bicameral government system,” Bladh continued. “Give us back a senator for every county or some way to put a stop to the bullet train, and water theft going to the Delta down south, all the other things that’s being done that we have no say in one way or the other except to pay our share of the bill.”
The March 7 meeting included presentations by Jefferson supporters and a representative from a nonpartisan group opposed to the idea, but only people in favor of the split-state concept spoke up during time set aside for public comments.
That was different Tuesday as supporters, opponents, and people who seemed to lie somewhere in the middle spoke about their thoughts on the concept and what the county should do about it moving forward.
Myrna Doering, of Jamestown, said she was opposed to the concept because she’s feels splitting up the state only further fuels the stark political division being felt throughout the country.
“We are a people united,” Doering said. “Please, don’t divide us.”
Elaine Hagen, a self-described “tree hugging environmentalist” who lives in Tuolumne, said she, too, is concerned about under-representation in the state Legislature, but she feels that the proposed state would make people like her even more underrepresented given the conservative leanings of the counties involved.
Peter Jelito, of Tuolumne, said that he didn’t have any quarrels with the State of Jefferson movement and understood the reasons behind it. However, he questioned how the rural counties would be able to afford the high costs of fighting catastrophic wildfires and the inevitable disputes over water that would erupt in court should the counties leave the state.
“I do think the effort for better representation is to go back to the one county, one state senator concept,” Jelito said.
Steven Baird, of Colfax, one of the movement’s leaders, told the board that the nonprofit group filing the lawsuit would pay for litigation costs.
County Counsel Sarah Carrillo said she would have to talk with Baird to get more information about the attorneys involved and other aspects of the case to provide a recommendation as to whether the board should support the lawsuit at a later meeting.
Each of the five supervisors explained their views on the Jefferson movement, with each expressing some level of support as well as concerns.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer said the arguments at the center of the issue are the same ones that have been debated in the United States since it was founded nearly 250 years ago, that being centralized versus localized forms of governance.
“As a supervisor, I believe this needs to be a popular movement,” Rodefer said. “It’s not for us to decide if we want to be part of the State of Jefferson, it’s for all of you out there to decide.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also approved:
• the installation of a bench in front of the Veterans Memorial Hall and Military Museum in Sonora to commemorate those who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars;
• a $69,000 contract to Matrix Consulting Group for work on an upcoming study of the county’s fire, first responder and ambulance systems.
• directing up to $100,000 to the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank from repayments on housing loans that were funded by a past Community Development Block Grant, a federal program that President Donald Trump wants to eliminate in his proposed 2017-18 budget outline.