It’s no secret that plenty of folks in California’s rural northern counties would love to leave the Golden State and form one of their own – the most persistent such plan has been called the State of Jefferson since the notion first appeared in the 1940s.
Rural residents in counties from Lassen to Lake have long felt dominated in setting policies affecting their rivers, timber and other essentials by the urban masses of the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.
This feeling took off in earnest in the 1960s, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Person, One Vote decision deprived northern counties of the kind of strong representation they previously enjoyed, where square miles often counted as much as population. No longer could those counties shape the entire California freeway system, as the late state Sen. Randolph Collier did during the more than 20 years he represented several North Coast counties, for just one example.
Then most of Southern California gradually became as politically liberal as the Bay area, and rural counties felt even more forlorn. They’ve devised scheme after scheme to split away into their own state. The problem has always been that they’d need a “yes” vote from the full state – not just their part – in order to do this, and that’s not in the cards.
So there’s never been a statewide vote on this issue, which nevertheless doesn’t stop ideas from percolating.
The newest has trickled south from rural eastern Oregon, whose denizens now have begun to feel similarly toward the Portland/Salem/Eugene areas of the Willamette River Valley as some Northern Californians do about California’s coastal counties from Marin south. They’d like to become part of consistently conservative Idaho, five Oregon counties said in votes last fall.
Oregonians pushing for new boundaries want to free themselves from the parts of their current state most infested by emigrating former Californians and their liberal ideas.
They’d like to take with them California counties that have flirted with the State of Jefferson idea.
If realized, their plan would create a Greater Idaho taking in some of the most scenic, most mountainous, timber- and river-rich parts of the American West.
This plan has several big differences from the state of Jefferson, which upsets Democrats because if it happened, it would likely give Republicans two new seats in the U.S. Senate, making Democratic control there and in the Electoral College significantly less achievable.
Instead, the new Greater Idaho would still have only two senators, the Senate itself would hold at 100 members and the Electoral College wouldn’t change much. And getting the rural counties of both Oregon and California away from political control by urban Democrats might give those rural places far more power to determine their own policies on water, renewable energy, smog control and many other issues where their voters consistently disagree with current state governments.
But analysis reveals this plan as even goofier than the State of Jefferson, which has yet to prove it could be economically viable if it should ever come to exist. Also, for the rural counties of both Oregon and California to join Idaho, they would need yes votes from the full electorates in all three states involved – not a very likely prospect.
Urban Oregonians are no more likely to approve the departure of the tourist tax dollars produced along the Columbia River and in the Cascade Mountains than coastal Californians are to part willingly from the ski resorts, national parks, forests and other tourist enterprises of the northern Sierra Nevada and the North Coast.
But the State of Jefferson state of mind is not going away. “Rural people and rural counties no longer have a voice,” Mark Baird, one of the new plan’s advocates, told a reporter. “If this (new idea) turns out to be the shortest route to liberty and representation, I’ll give it a go.”
Yet, the greater Idaho plan is even less likely to succeed than the State of Jefferson ever has been. Which nevertheless won’t prevent anyone from longing for the “good old days” when rural counties were the sparsely populated little tails that wagged the big urban dogs.