California secession movement stalls at ballot box
By FENIT NIRAPPIL
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A break-away movement in far Northern California apparently sounded better in theory than in reality to voters in Tuesday’s primary.
Residents of rural, sparsely populated counties who have felt ignored by California leaders have discussed secession for more than a century. The latest push has the support of elected officials in four counties, and a vote is scheduled by Butte County leaders next week.
Two counties that put the issue of creating a 51st state named Jefferson before residents split the question. Voters in Del Norte County defeated the advisory measure resoundingly by 59 percent. Tehama County voters appear to favor it, but 3,500 ballots remain to be counted.
Secession opponents said Wednesday that the results show the desire to split from California is limited to a small, vocal group. New state supporters face long odds, needing approval from the California Legislature and U.S. Congress.
In Siskiyou County, where the board of supervisors has already voted to join the new state movement, voters rejected renaming the county the Republic of Jefferson, with just 44 percent support in Tuesday’s primary.
Mark Baird, a chief proponent of Jefferson state and a Siskiyou County resident, dismissed the vote in his county as unrelated to his movement and said the rejection of Del Norte voters doesn’t stop momentum for a new state.
“It’s not a loss for us. It’s a loss for them,” Baird said. “We never expected to win 100 percent of the votes because these are questions people are going to have to ask themselves: Do you want representation or not?”
Del Norte and Tehama, with more than 91,000 people, are among 16 counties targeted for secession, making up more than a quarter of California’s land mass but a small slice of its population. People who opposed the secession measures said they were tired of break-away activists going unchallenged.
“It draws a picture of this extreme rural philosophy,” said Kevin Hendrick, a retiree who led opposition to the Del Norte secession measure. “But it’s not held by a majority because we just showed that.”
Hendrick credited his side’s victory to showcasing the county’s reliance on California state government for school funding and state parks. A mailer warned voters that secession would lead to the closure of the Pelican Bay State Prison.
Aaron Funk, who organized support for the secession measure, compared voters who feared losing state government funding to victims of Stockholm syndrome. Jefferson backers say the votes are a step toward analyzing how an independent state could support itself.
Sue Gallagher, one of the opponents of the Tehama secessionist measure, said an organized push against the measure never took off, partially because many voters didn’t take the Jefferson movement seriously.
“They were going ‘This is so crazy it can’t happen,’ so they didn’t have any impetus to turn out and vote,” Gallagher said.
Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters Tuesday night he would visit counties all across California in his re-election campaign for a historic fourth term. Asked about visiting the counties that want to split off, he said, “I’m going to definitely talk to the people of Jefferson and tell them to stick around.”