They came out by the hundreds Tuesday night to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, with most wearing hats, shirts and holding flags that bore the same symbol — the seal of the proposed State of Jefferson.
More than just a logo to promote their movement, the yellow circle with two black Xs inside expresses the way they feel “double crossed” by state government due to lack of representation. Their proposed remedy? Form a 51st state with 20 other rural counties in Northern California.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors hosted the public hearing to hear from supporters and opponents given the attention the movement has received locally in recent years.
At the end, the board reached a consensus to have the county’s elected financial officers put together an analysis of the economic pros and cons for joining the movement. That could lead to either a board resolution in support, or a possible special election to give voters the final say.
District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce, however, was at first strongly in favor of throwing the board and county’s full support behind the proposal. He got a standing ovation and the night’s loudest round of applause when he said: “I hope it has potential to be real. I don’t really know. I don’t have all the background to it. I’m not a lawyer, but it means something to try.”
Boards in five counties within the proposed state have endorsed the idea, while 15 others have rejected it or taken no action. Voters in one county approved the concept, while those in two others shot it down.
It’s nearly impossible to drive anywhere in the county for a length of time without seeing some reminder of the State of Jefferson, such as a bumper sticker on someone’s car, apparel someone’s wearing, or a sign in someone’s yard.
All five elected supervisors sat at a table on a raised platform facing the sea of about 200 people stretching to the back of the building. The setting was far different than the board’s chambers less than a mile away, where they held their regularly scheduled meeting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. earlier in the day.
Terry Rapoza, a Shasta County organizer for the State of Jefferson, spoke for 30 minutes in hopes of convincing the board to support their split-state concept and sign onto a lawsuit supporters are planning to file soon in federal court, which he estimated will cost roughly $1 million.
The lawsuit will be aimed at forcing the state to remedy their grievances, either by restructuring the state Legislature or allowing them to move forward with the split.
California capped the number of legislators in the State Assembly and Senate at 120 In 1879, when the population was fewer than a million. The population is now approaching 40 million, but the number of total representatives has remained the same.
“Let’s put the State of Jefferson here and court case over there,” Rapoza said. “What does everybody want? Representation. Period.”
People from the audience who spoke in favor of the State of Jefferson during a time set aside for public comments touched on similar themes as Rapoza: Anger over legislation to protect undocumented immigrants, gun laws they feel impinge on their Second Amendment rights, and general frustration over what they feel is a state that’s left them behind.
Steve Perreira, of Groveland, held a sign that said “Moonbeam: Bad dream” in reference to Gov. Jerry Brown.
“We will figure out a way of making money off our tourists that come to this beautiful land and we won’t have any problem being a prosperous state,” Perreira said. “We’re impoverished right now by the tyranny of the city states on the coast.”
Cindy Ellsmore, of Sierra County, was given 30 minutes to make the case for opposition to joining the State of Jefferson. She serves as the treasurer of Keep it California, a nonpartisan political action committee formed in 2015 to oppose the concept.
Ellsmore presented some figures she said illustrate how the county would be worse off financially by splitting from the state with the sixth-largest economy in the world.
Board Chairwoman Sherri Brennan, District 1 supervisor, said at the beginning of the meeting that she recognized a lot of familiar faces in the room and asked people to be polite, though Ellsmore was interrupted several times by a scoffs and a few snarky remarks.
Ellsmore also said the lawsuit would likely prove to be costly to the county. She pointed out the last state-split — when West Virginia left Virginia in the 1860s to remain in the Union during the Civil War — took 50 years to settle in court.
“This is not going to be a fast and easy process any way you look at it. So who pays for it?” Ellsmore asked. “Does that mean the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors is on the hook because they signed a declaration?”
Though there were a some opponents in the crowd, no one other than Ellsmore spoke against the idea.