Siskiyou County logger Mark Crawford talks about why he thinks Northern California should be its own state while getting his hair cut by Richard Pease in Yreka's Palace Barber Shop. - Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Secession: Realistic hope or illusion?

Supporters of a tea party-inspired effort to secede from California encourage Jackson County to rally behind the creation of the state of Jefferson.

"Now the northern part of California and the southern part of Oregon have a chance of making history," said Mark Baird, who owns a radio station in Yreka and has spearheaded the secessionist movement.

Growing discontent over California regulations prompted the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in a 4-to-1 vote last week to support the secessionist movement.

The lone vote in opposition was cast by board Chairman Ed Valenzuela. He said he took an oath to uphold the state constitution and was elected to solve problems within the existing system.

Siskiyou supervisors hope other rural, conservative Northern California counties will join them. They say they're being ignored by Sacramento legislators while being saddled with excessive regulations.

Modoc County supervisors are scheduled to vote on the issue on Sept. 24.

Both the California Legislature and Congress would have to sign off on any secession effort.

"This isn't going to be easy," Baird said. "It's a long shot, but it's not a joke to us."

Baird got the idea when he heard former California Assemblyman Stan Statham speak at a recent tea party meeting. Statham's ideas fired up Baird and within a month the movement spread, and the Siskiyou supervisors cast their vote. Statham has proposed carving California up into three states. The secession idea has since gained national attention and points to a growing rural/urban divide.

In 2011, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in Southern California hosted a statewide summit to discuss having 13 counties secede from eastern California to form "South California."

Southern Oregon and Northern California have long been known somewhat whimsically as the state of Jefferson, a reference to a movement in 1941 that gained steam until the start of World War II. Since then, the state of Jefferson has been mostly a state of mind.

Baird said Southern Oregon and Northern California share a common interest in logging, ranching and a feeling that lawmakers are standing in the way of creating more vibrant economies.

"That's why we belong together," Baird said.

He hopes to get support from 11 or 12 California counties, from Del Norte on the north coast down to Yuba above Sacramento.

The economics of creating a new state have been one of the main stumbling blocks, he acknowledged. Most of the counties have small populations, a tiny tax base and little industry.

Baird said the idea faces significant challenges, and he hopes to find a university that will devise an economic study on the feasibility of secession.

He said the counties hope to create a more business-friendly environment than currently exists in California to overcome their financial woes.

Jackson County commissioners say there has been no groundswell of support for secession locally.

Commissioner Don Skundrick said he's only received one comment from a local resident favoring secession.

He said he empathizes with the frustrations expressed by folks in Siskiyou County.

"I don't mind tilting at windmills, but the reality is it's never going to happen," he said.

Jackson County has met significant resistance from Salem over the years, but Skundrick said this area has a can-do attitude, though the economic malaise is beginning to chip away at it.

"We don't wait for Salem to get things done," he said.

Going forward, Skundrick said rural parts of the state need to pick their battles and work with metropolitan areas to solve problems.

"If we would stop spitting in the wind and work with moderates, we should just try to chip away at things as best we can," he said.

Commissioner John Rachor said many of the concerns and problems plaguing Northern California counties are similar to those locally, including discontent over policies set in urban seats of power.

"Everywhere but the Willamette Valley is upset with the Willamette Valley," Rachor said. "We all feel the Willamette Valley is calling the shots."

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal, who courted the tea party during his campaign, said he's sympathetic to Northern California counties.

"It personifies the disconnect between the urban portions of the state and the rural portions of the state," he said.

Breidenthal said Jackson and other rural counties have demanded more local control, particularly over management of local resources.

Even though he doesn't see much local support for secession, Breidenthal wouldn't rule out the possibility it could gain significant traction.

"I would never want to predict the future," he said.

In Yreka, which was once proposed as the capital of the state of Jefferson, the reactions to the secession movement are mostly favorable, though many residents have questions about the economics.

Drake Davis, owner of Don's Sporting Goods, said he supports the secession idea up to a point, but wonders how his county can sustain itself if detached from California.

With only 45,000 people in Siskiyou County, there's not much of a tax base and not much industry, he said.

On the other hand, the county is largely ignored by the huge population centers to the south, Davis said.

"Northern California is abused by Southern California and the Bay Area," he said. "It would be nice to have more control over what's going on in this area."

Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong said regulations from both the state and federal levels have strangled the local economy, and it's time for the county to fight back.

A county once home to more than 50 mills now has two veneer plants, she said. Unemployment balloons up to 18 percent during the winter, she said.

"We want to change from being a dependent county to one that is self-sufficient," she said.

Armstrong said locals have many gripes about how the county is treated by Sacramento.

Local residents are fuming over a fire protection fee of more than $100 a property that is sent to the state each year.

She cites the "militarization of fish and game" officials, who she said roll into the county and scare local residents with their guns and other threatening tactics.

"It's not a friendly atmosphere," Armstrong said.

The state largely has left her county out of the ongoing debate over Klamath Basin water issues, even though three dams are within its boundaries, she said.

Harvesting timber also is a big concern locally.

Mark Crawford, a 66-year-old logging company owner in Siskiyou County, said his area has received a lot of regulations and little help from the state.

"It's big money interests in Sacramento pulling the strings," he said.

Crawford said it can take six months or longer to get a permit to harvest timber, noting the same permit in Oregon usually takes about a month.

The secession movement will succeed or fail depending on how seriously people in Northern California counties take it, he said.

"If nothing else, it should get Sacramento's attention," Crawford said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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