California is a diverse, populous state full of potential. Yet for residents in twenty-one counties in Northern California—and they are particular about their truly northern status compared to San Francisco—they feel left out. I learned first-hand about the struggles for these rugged salt-of-the-earth conservatives during a three-day visit to the region. I gave two speeches on conservative activism and to recruit help for the fight against California’s increasingly unpopular sanctuary state law, SB 54.
“North State” is so far north, the closest airport is in Medford, Oregon. The region stretches from California’s northwesternmost county, Del Norte, to the northeastern corner of Modoc County, down to Tuolumne County (which just opted out of SB 54). The citizens want more than respect. They want to form their own new state: Jefferson. The namesake comes from President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a free republic emerging in the Pacific Northwest and a desire for more regional autonomy.
“To the rest of the state, we don’t exist,” says Louis Gliatto, the head of the Yreka (not Eureka) Tea Party and Siskiyou County Committee member for “Citizens for Fair Representation.” To prove how out of touch the Rest of California (ROC) has become, Tehama and Siskiyou counties were the first jurisdictions to opt out of SB 54, one month before Los Alamitos passed its own Constitution Compliance ordinance. The two North State counties openly declared that they would comply with federal law. How could the press have missed this? A county of 44,000 residents deserves to be recognized for taking that bold step.
This new state project is not new, yet few know about it. In the late 1870s, the state legislature was limited to 120 representatives, but the state population has skyrocketed. Only until the 1930s did legislative districts account for size and population for representation in Sacramento. In 1941, this spread-out conservative community of ranchers, loggers, and farmers initiated the movement to break away, frustrated by the growing disconnect and lack of representation from Sacramento. Today, three state senators and six assembly members must compete with the dominant LA and Bay Area delegations.
The Jefferson movement faded away quickly in the wake of World War II, but California’s reckless escalation of progressive policies has revived the Jefferson movement for the last five years. In northern cities and along the roads, Jefferson signs and flags (a green field featuring a gold prospector’s pan with two Xs’s to represent the sense of being double-crossed by the rest of California) gently stand out or wave under many of the American flags, all on proud display throughout the region. Despite the left-wing tilt of Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin counties, Jefferson residents are down-to-earth entrepreneurs, engineers, and invested farmers. They laugh about the differences between Humboldt County, with its commercial kush and tie-dyed shirts; and Siskiyou County, where lush, verdant pastures match the unofficial banner, and colorful sunsets greet the peaceful homesteaders. Jeffersonians vocally oppose commercial marijuana, too, as its illegal cultivation and distribution (despite the passage of pro-pot initiative Prop 64 in 2016) has caused violent crime and corruption to spike.
Hosted at the Bacigalupi Ranch—owned by husband Jerry and wife Donna with their daughter Debbie—I witnessed a new world in the same state, and I connected with hard-working conservative activists in their own right. I discovered that I wasn’t the only town mouse in a land that would please a country heart. Many Siskiyou County residents relocated to escape the expensive busyness of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Another woman relocated for health reasons. Other residents owned thriving businesses in the Bay Area, but they couldn’t stand the liberal politics any longer.
Republican leaders in the region joked that they had come to Northern California for an easy retirement, but now they face a new set of political fights. Bringing wealth and prosperity to Jefferson, they still chafe under the progressive tyranny of Sacramento, and it shows. Democratic Party micromanaging has wiped out a once-thriving timber industry. City markers from thirty years ago represent once-bustling communities which have all but disappeared or gone dormant. Welfarism and drug abuse have grown rapidly because of economic stagnation and political persecution. Jefferson farms feed the state and country, but in return, the political class feeds off their money, work, and property. The Democratic leaders are now targeting their dams for full removal (read “destruction”), which would ruin farms, homes, and businesses along the Klamath River. All the “Damn the Dams!” talk has forced down property values and diminished hopes of relief within Jefferson.
Taking a tour of the Bacigalupi ranch, I learned directly about California’s burdens on the region’s ranchers. Jerry wanted to expand a man-made lake on his own property. He put off the project for one decade, then found out that project’s fee ballooned from $800 to $5000 a year. Frustrated, Jerry abandoned his development plans for his own property. Fortunately, Jeffersonians don’t take the government’s abuse lightly. Mark Baird, one of the leaders of the Jefferson movement, recounted how they defend their property. When Fish and Wildlife employees threatened any kind of overreach against his property, Baird responded: “Bring your gun. You’re going to need it.” Those officials never came back. This story inspired me as to how Jefferson residents can increase their autonomy. “Why not enact sanctuary for gun owners as Illinois has? Demand that your county supervisors pass a constitutional carry ordinance to counter Sacramento’s gun grabbing.” The residents liked the idea.
The best idea, of course, has been the Jefferson movement. With standing committees in twenty-one widespread counties, plus a pending federal lawsuit, the State of Jefferson is alive and kicking, reminding us of the eternal promises outlined in the Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Considering their efforts and successes, the name “Jefferson” is all the more fitting for this active, conservative region of California.