The myriad activists for a putative State of Jefferson in the mostly rural counties of Northern California don’t need much prodding to spring into action.
But they may soon be getting a push anyway, this time from similar-minded eastern Oregonians eager to split off from their current state and join up with neighboring Idaho.
That movement, called “Greater Idaho” because it would shift 15 rural eastern Oregon counties into Idaho, has so far won voter approval in 11 of those counties and will get a vote in May in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County (population 7,391). The Idaho Legislature’s lower house has already approved the concept.
While the Greater Idaho movement is far younger than the notion of a State of Jefferson, which originated in the 1940s, it has moved much further toward its goal. It is even due for some discussion in the Oregon Legislature this year, with at least one state senator and one member of the lower house as sponsors.
The State of Jefferson, by contrast, has never gotten formal consideration in Sacramento. Its aim is not to join another state, but to rip away from Oregon some of the same counties now amenable to joining Idaho and link them to Northern California in a new 51st state, its putative capital Redding, in California’s Shasta County.
Meanwhile, a nascent separatist movement in San Bernardino County won narrow approval from local voters last fall for a study of independent statehood. There’s been no action yet on that.
The State of Jefferson gets some support not only in Northern California, but also in southern Oregon, where roadside signs in cities like Grants Pass, Reedsport and Medford are readily visible.
It would be no surprise if California counties sympathetic to Jefferson joined Oregon areas pushing to join Idaho. Their complaints are the same: Most are politically more conservative than the dominant coastal, urban areas of their states. Many counties are wrapped into each legislative district in those regions, while some urban counties get dozens.
That last has been true since California in the 1960s bent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Person, One Vote decision. Before then, state Senate seats were allocated by geography, so the northern counties often wielded significant power.
Now their mostly Republican representatives are part of small GOP minorities in both houses of the California Legislature.
It’s little different in Oregon, where tiny Wallowa’s populace would fit into a few Portland or Eugene city blocks.
The rural counties feel they suffer the same kind of taxation without representation that helped fuel the American Revolution and many folks there want out. They also despise gun control laws passed over the last few years in both Oregon and California.
In Oregon, they get some statewide sympathy. One poll often cited by Greater Idaho organizers found 68% of Portland area voters favor their Legislature at least discussing the idea of separation. They note that losing many eastern areas would let that Oregon become even more solidly Democratic than now.
But Greater Idaho and the State of Jefferson both face major roadblocks: Each would require a statewide vote okaying both letting significant areas pull out, along with congressional support and statewide voter support for whatever property split was worked out between existing state governments and new or revised ones. Not to mention similar votes in Idaho, where voters would have to approve adding the rural Oregon counties which now get far more financial support from their state than they contribute via taxes.
All of which means none of the current state splitting or state altering ideas has yet become serious business, just like all the other 42 ideas for new state lines proposed formally and informally since California entered the Union in 1850.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].