SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Residents of California’s largely rural, agrarian and politically conservative far northern counties long ago got used to feeling ignored in the state Capitol. The idea of forming their own state has been a topic among secession dreamers for more than a century. Residents in two counties will have a chance to vote on that sentiment next week.
Voters in Del Norte and Tehama counties, with a combined population of about 91,000, will decide June 3 on an advisory measure, Measure A, that asks each county’s board of supervisors to join a wider effort to form a 51st state named Jefferson.
Elected officials in Glenn, Modoc, Siskiyou and Yuba counties already voted to join the movement. Supervisors in Butte County will vote June 10, while local bodies in other northern counties are awaiting the June 3 ballot results before deciding what to do. A similar but unrelated question on the primary ballot in Siskiyou County asks voters to rename that county the Republic of Jefferson.
“We have 11 counties up here that share one state senator,” compared to 20 for the greater Los Angeles area and 10 for the San Francisco Bay Area, said Aaron Funk, of Crescent City, a coastal town in Del Norte County near the Oregon border. “Essentially, we have no representation whatsoever.”
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The current county secession efforts are advisory, encouraging local officials to further study the idea. The steps involved in trying to become the country’s 51st state are steep, first requiring approval from the state Legislature, then from Congress.
The counties that could opt in — up to 16, according to supporters — make up more than a quarter of the state’s land mass but only a small portion of its population.
The loss of millions of dollars for everything from infrastructure to schools is among the biggest worries of residents who oppose the secession movement. The Del Norte County Board of Education, which receives 90 percent of its funding, or $32 million, from the state, voted to oppose the initiative.
If it passes, Kevin Hendrick worries that local officials will spend years studying how to create a new state rather than tackling concrete problems such as fixing a crumbling highway that is in danger of falling into the ocean.
“It’s a lot of broad promises about things being better and representation being better,” said Hendrick, who is leading foes in Del Norte. “But the more they talk, the less clear it becomes about how that’s actually going to happen.”
It’s also unclear how the new state would pay for federally mandated education, social welfare, health care and other programs or other services residents rely on.