State of Jefferson
A Move to Secede on California-Oregon Border
KEVIN FAGAN / San Francisco Chronicle 5oct2008
supporters pose for a photo with their
state of Jefferson
California Jefferson Population 38 million 889,138 White percentage 59% 90% Percentage whose commute to work is less than 19 minutes 39% 62% Median household income $47,493 $31,173
Note: Jefferson statistics compiled by combining 2000
Yreka, Siskiyou County — Some folks around here think the economic sky is falling and state lawmakers in Sacramento and Salem are ignoring their constituents in the hinterlands.
Guess the time is ripe to create a whole new state.
That's the thinking up here along the border between California and Oregon, where 12 sparsely populated, thickly forested counties in both states want to break away and generate the 51st star on the nation's flag — the state of Jefferson.
You can see the signs of discontent from Klamath Falls to Dunsmuir, where green double-X "Jefferson State" flags hang in scores of businesses. You can hear the talk of revolution at lunch counters and grocery lines, where people grumble that politicians to the north and south don't care.
You can even hear the dissent on the radio, where 21 area FM stations broadcast from Oregon into California under the banner of "Jefferson Public Radio."
"We have nothing in common with you people down south. Nothing," said Randy Bashaw, manager of the Jefferson State Forest Products lumber mill in the Trinity County hamlet of Hayfork. "The sooner we're done with all you people, the better."
Talking about secession has been a quasi-joking conversational saw since 1941, when five counties in the area started things by actually declaring themselves — briefly — to be the state of Jefferson. But now, with the economy in trouble and unemployment soaring, the idea of greater independence is getting its most serious consideration since World War II.
Locals complain that federal and state regulators have hampered the fishing and timber industries to protect forestlands and endangered species such as sucker fish and the spotted owl. Jobs are so scarce that the median income in the area is only two-thirds that of the rest of the state. Most water from the rainy Shasta region is shipped south, with little economic benefit to the area. Even the California sales tax draws sneers.
If they ran their own state, the reasoning goes, folks in Siskiyou, Modoc and the other potential Jefferson counties could whack the red tape from both federal and state officials and get rid of the sales tax.
The Grange Hall of Yreka, a farm-based service organization, is activating 51 of its brethren halls in the area to collect 1 million signatures to have a statehood advisory measure put on the California ballot. Tony Intiso, a runoff candidate in the Nov. 4 election for Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, has pledged to force the issue and is running campaign ads calling for regional freedom. The number of registered users of a decade-old Web site [www.jeffersonstate.com] advocating partition has suddenly shot from dozens to more than 900.
"Heck yeah, it's a darn good idea," said Richard Mitchell, manager of the Cooley & Pollard Hardware Store on Miner Street, the main drag in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Yreka. "Those liberal people down south don't understand us at all, and if there was a vote today to form a new state, it would pass in a heartbeat.
"I would bet on it."
The window of Mitchell's store, where he tends the register in worn work boots and a camouflage hunting cap, displays T-shirts and flags sporting the state "seal" of Jefferson: Two X's denoting the double-crossing the area supposedly gets from the capitols of California and Oregon.
Movement began in 1941
Mitchell also posts a copy of the original declaration of Jefferson independence, drafted in 1941 by the angry miners and loggers who pushed for secession over the appalling condition of roads. That movement — the coverage of which earned Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane a Pulitzer Prize — lasted just two weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, when the movement dissolved in the name of national unity.
But it was never forgotten.
"It started out as a big joke back then, but then some folks got real serious and before long they had elected a governor and all that," said Frances Wacker, 95, whose husband, the late George Wacker, was one of the 1941 Jefferson movement leaders.
"I think some folks have become serious again and think they have something going."
Sixty-seven years ago, Wacker recalled, locals were frustrated because they were ignored when they complained to lawmakers that they couldn't easily ship copper and timber south to ports and markets on the axle-cracking roads. The roads have improved since then — the same trip now takes four hours, not the eight of 1941 — but the unhappiness has not.
"It's not rocket science to see why it makes sense, and how we could do it," said Brian Petersen, a landscaper who runs the main online forum advocating statehood, www.jeffersonstate.com. "The capitols of California and Oregon ignore us. We want out.
"All we have to do is get an initiative on the ballot and vote to get things going."
Peterson has run his Web site for 10 years. For most of the time since, the site had a mailing list of about 100.
In the past year, though, as the Grange began its petition drive and unemployment throughout the region rose to about 10 percent — almost three points above the California average — the mailing list grew nearly 10 times in size.
"If you want any chance of fixing things, sometimes you have to break the system," said Leo Bergeron, master of Yreka's Greenhorn Grange Hall and past master of the statewide, agriculturally oriented Grange service club. "Now, we have to break the system."
For years, he said, locals have proudly claimed Jefferson is a "state of mind" born of living in an expanse of forestlands and hamlets that is roughly the size of Wales and has about the same population as San Francisco. Redding, with a population of 80,000, is the closest thing to a metropolis. And with 60,000 cattle, Siskiyou County has 15,000 more bovines than it does people. Along the way, tourist-minded locals have come up with the flags, an official state cow ("Moo-dona," a huge sculpture alongside Interstate 5) and an official beer (microbrewed in Etna). The legend of Big Foot is also big around here.
But Bergeron's not playing around.
"If you do it seriously, some people will think you're a kook," said Bergeron, who spearheads the Grange effort. "But 9 out of 10 people have an interest in this — and we need to reach the ones who are really serious."
Working toward '09 measure
Bergeron's first goal is to gather 1,200 signatures in Siskiyou County to put an advisory secession initiative on the county ballot in 2009. At the same time, he is urging the 51 Grange Halls in Jefferson territory, and those on the mailing list of www.jeffersonstate.com, to gear up for collecting 1 million signatures to take the advisory measure statewide.
"We'll need the approval of both states and the federal government, but it can be done," he said. "And even if we don't become a new state, we will have made a statement and can at least get some more independence in our own affairs."
Such a statement would be news to most in Sacramento.
"Never heard of Jefferson," said Aaron McLear, spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We are going to decline comment."
Gail Fiorini-Jenner, co-author of two books on the state of Jefferson, said the almost 900,000 people who live in the territory aren't hicks. Just feisty. And that, she said, is not new: Since the 1850s, there have been similar attempts to create the states of Klamath and Shasta.
"Everyone thinks we're dumb rednecks, but we have the far left, the far right and a lot of the middle up here," she said. "Our only trouble is we have no political power. It's no wonder people want to change that."
Jefferson Is More Than State of Mind to Publisher
KEVIN FAGAN / San Francisco Chronicle 5oct2008
Daniel Webster, publisher of the Pioneer Press, the official newspaper of the state of Jefferson, has an infectious laugh as he recalls the past. Some residents of northern California and southern Oregon are again talking about seceding from the United States and forming their own state called Jefferson. (Brant Ward / The Chronicle)
Fort Jones, Siskiyou County — Write him nasty letters or call him names in the street, and Daniel Webster will shrug and say that's what comes with newspapering in a small town.
But one thing you do not do is steal his state of Jefferson double-cross flag.
"I'm so mad I could ... I could ..." Webster said one recent day, bristling with rage as he held the remnants of the flagpole rope vandals snipped to make off with his banner. He drew in a breath, then relaxed.
"We have some suspects, and we will get to the bottom of this," he said. "As for why they took the flag: Let's just say some political statements aren't popular."
That would be the statement he makes whenever and wherever he can: That the top half of California and the lower half of Oregon should secede from what he sees as the arrogantly dismissive rest of their respective states.
He said he realizes that chances of secession anytime soon are slim. But that doesn't keep him from editorializing for it, railing about it and reporting about it anytime he can.
Exhibit A for his sentiments has been his flag.
Webster had flown the "official" Jefferson double-X banner over the roof of his Pioneer Press newspaper office since the day he bought the paper 10 years ago — and then, two months ago, thieves ended his tradition. They left the U.S. flag, which flew above it, flapping from the edge of the roof, where it caught in some shingles. Webster — who is so patriotic he recently wore a stars-and-stripes shirt as he sang the national anthem to a gathering of Republican women — found that even more offensive than the theft of the Jefferson XX.
"I'm buying a new Jefferson flag, and as soon as the telephone company or Fire Department comes by with a cherry picker, I'll reattach the rope to my pole and be back to normal," he said.
Why has it taken two months to get to it? Things move a little slow up here, Webster said with one of his characteristically huge grins.
Like most things up here, Webster is pure country.
His office is a cluttered ode to Wild West journalism, modern style — dusty papers stacked high on every surface, a poster of horses on the wall proclaiming "Save Rural America," and a strip of yellow "police line" tape across the door. His 35-foot flagpole is actually a pine tree nailed to the roof.
The 43-year-old publisher was born in nearby Etna, earned a law degree and spent time as an L.A. publicist before homesickness drove him back north in 1996. He was reporting for the tiny Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka when the 4,500-circulation Pioneer Press came up for sale in 1998.
Dubbing it, on day one, the official newspaper of the state of Jefferson was a no-brainer, he said.
"It's more than just a state of mind," he said. "It's something that should actually happen."