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May 29, 2014

California voters consider forming state of Jefferson

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 and out of sync with major urban areas.

The idea of forming their own state has been a topic among local secession dreamers for more than a century. Residents in two counties will have a chance to voice that sentiment next week.

Voters in Del Norte and Tehama, with a combined population of about 91,000, will decide June 3 on an advisory measure 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.”

The current county secession efforts are merely 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 — as many as 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 seven counties that have voted or will this month have a combined geographic area twice the size of New Hampshire, with about 467,000 residents.

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