One question that went notably unasked to local political candidates at a public forum Wednesday night hosted by the State of Jefferson movement’s Tuolumne County chapter was whether they supported the idea of splitting off from California and forming a 51st state.

Sonora resident Frances Boricchio, secretary of the chapter, said one of the key goals of hosting the event was to familiarize the candidates with the philosophy of the secession movement, which she felt was largely accomplished.

“I’m pleased we got the word out about the State of Jefferson,” she said. “It sounded like they were interested.”

Tuolumne County is one of 20 rural counties in Northern California that have filed declarations to withdraw from the state with the sixth-largest economy in the world. The last state formed by seceding from another was West Virginia in 1861 during the American Civil War.

The main concern of the movement’s supporters is what they believe to be a lack of representation in the state Legislature due to booming growth elsewhere over the decades.

There is currently a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Fair Representation, a group affiliated with the State of Jefferson movement, that’s seeking to force California either to change the way representatives are apportioned or allow the rural counties to secede.

“Laws that benefit southern cities and counties do not reflect the values and needs of the state’s rural residents,” said Tuolumne resident Aaron Nasarow, a member of the local chapter’s board while speaking about the movement at the start of the event. “Many of the rural counties have been impoverished through loss of industry, jobs, the addition of higher taxes, and regulations.”

Nasarow said the movement is nonpartisan, though some of its stances on issues such as California’s new “sanctuary state” law seem to fall in line with traditional conservative thinking.

The forum was the second in which all candidates running for local public office in Tuolumne County were invited to participate ahead of the June 5 primary election.

There seemed to be slightly more people attending than the Monday night forum, which drew about 60 people. A number of people in the crowd wore State of Jefferson apparel.

Incumbent District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt was the only candidate for the board who did not attend. Also not attending were Sonora City Council candidate David Axelrod and treasurer-tax collector candidate Justin Birtwhistle.

Incumbent Councilman Jim Garaventa attended and talked to people during a meet-and-greet after the forum was over, but did not actively participate in the forum because he said that he forgot to RSVP in time.

The candidates seemed more relaxed than at the first forum Monday night, with several of them cracking jokes during their opening statements.

Boricchio then peppered the candidates with questions, some of which were the same as those asked Monday night and others that were different and mirrored the values of the movement.

One such question was about whether the candidates for the Board of Supervisors would support a resolution for the county to abide by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws.

Many in the State of Jefferson movement are opposed to California’s new “sanctuary state” law that’s intended to limit cooperation between local enforcement and federal immigration agents because they believe that it’s unconstitutional.

All of the candidates said they would support following the Constitution and federal laws as required by the oath of office they would take if elected, though only District 2 candidate Dave Titchenal and District 3 candidates Anaiah Kirk and Aaron Rasmussen referred specifically to their opposition to “sanctuary state” law.

Some of the supervisor candidates took veiled shots at each other while answering questions or during their closing statements.

When answering a question about the 27-percent raise that the board gave themselves last year, District 3 candidate Laurie Sylwester said she would treat the position as a full-time job and criticized Kirk for saying he would still keep his full-time job as a supervising correctional counselor at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown.

Kirk, 33, later responded in his closing statements by saying that he would simply work twice as hard because he had “grit,” and distanced himself from many others in his generation whom he believes “just want handouts.”

Titchenal mentioned in his closing statements how he was the only supervisor candidate who didn’t bring notes, to which Campbell responded that the ideal type of leader is one who takes notes and uses what they’ve learned.

No such sparks flew between the Sonora City Council candidates.

Colette Such, a member of the city’s homeless task force, said improving the city’s budget and finding a solution for homelessness were her top reasons to run for a seat on the council, while 20-year-old candidate Kurt Bryant said he wanted to provide representation for the younger generation of city residents.

Michelle Ronning,a candidate for treasurer-tax collector who currently serves as the county’s revenue recovery manager, said she would like to improve customer service by cross-training employees to help people with the various functions of the office’s three departments.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.