Welcome to the latest county secession movement in rural counties of the West.
Last month, it was four northern Colorado counties voting to put secession and creation of a new state “North Colorado” on the ballot. Their grievances: the Colorado Legislature passing laws on firearms, oil exploration, renewable energy for utilities and same-sex civil unions.
This month it’s our own Siskiyou County, home of Mount Shasta and the Sacramento, Klamath and McCloud rivers, along the Oregon border. Supervisors voted 4-1 to “withdraw Siskiyou County from the State of California” and to “start over” by forming a “New State.”
Pandering public officials were all over it. Assemblyman Brian Dahle issued a statement saying, “If the people of Siskiyou County are successful in creating their own state I will be the first to seek the office of Governor.” Erin Ryan, field representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, reportedly said she and other LaMalfa staff members supported the effort to secede, but didn’t know the congressman’s views.
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A joke, a cry for attention, a protest against state indifference or a serious proposal?
A similar 1941 secession attempt was a little of all. Siskiyou, Del Norte and Modoc counties in California and Curry, Josephine and Jackson counties in Oregon issued a proclamation declaring the “State of Jefferson.” It stated: “Until California and Oregon build a road into the copper country, Jefferson, as a defense minded state, will be forced to rebel each Thursday and act as a separate State.”
A Siskiyou Daily News editorial at the time said the secession reflected “a resentment of a great body of people in a great geographical area who are tired of being regarded as a hill-billy group who are not of sufficient importance to be given considerate treatment.”
Clearly, neither the resentments nor the theatrics have gone away.
Today, Siskiyou County’s grievances are, among others, the California Legislature passing a $115 fire-prevention fee, firearms and natural resources regulations, a new law about transgender children, dam removal along the Klamath River basin, sawmills closing, and a moratorium on suction mining. Resentment is being whipped up by groups such as Defend Rural America and Constitutional Sheriffs, the subject of an editorial on Aug. 25.
How statehood would solve the changing timber and mining economies, resolve Klamath River issues and deal with federal firearms law is unclear.
The U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3) allows a new state to form out of an existing state with the approval of that state’s legislature and Congress. The last time a state seceded was during the Civil War: West Virginia from Virginia.
Why not let Siskiyou go?
With an aging citizenry (median age 47), a population of 45,000 and labor force of 20,000, a poverty rate of 17 percent and per capita income of $22,179, this rural county has serious problems. It and other similar counties deserve more attention from the state of California and lawmakers. Yet seceding would only make Siskiyou’s problems worse. Forty-five percent of its revenue comes from the state. Another 25 percent comes from the federal government. Thirty-four percent of its jobs are government employment.
Siskiyou’s elected leaders need to ask themselves: By seeking to secede, do they think their county will get the kind of respect and attention it deserves? Or will this be perceived as just a juvenile stunt, much like a child who runs away but comes scurrying home at the sound of the dinner bell?