That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [securing our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
– United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
You might be excused for considering it a bit of a novelty when Siskiyou County voted last month to secede from California. After all, the rural county in the northernmost section of California is not often the topic of the state’s political discourse.
But then the Board of Supervisors in Modoc County, adjacent to Siskiyou County in the northeastern corner of California, followed suit and voted to pursue leaving the state as well. When the secession issue was discussed, only two citizens voiced opposition to the motion. Butte County is scheduled to take up a similar motion in an Oct. 22 meeting, and Lassen County is also considering a vote on secession, although the Redding City Council just voted 3-2 against the idea.
Secession supporters hope to get up to 12 counties in Northern California and Southern Oregon to sign on to create a new state, which would be called Jefferson. The notion has been around for quite a long time, since a similar effort to form the State of Jefferson was launched back in 1941.
The Modoc secession resolution cites as reasons for its intended departure the “increasing tendency by the State of California to exercise legislative and fiscal malfeasance in the form of an illegal fire tax, property rights violations and assaults upon Second Amendment rights, as well as disregard for other inalienable rights of the Citizens of Modoc County,” including excessive regulation of natural resources by state and federal agencies.
In addition, there is simply a general feeling of a lack of representation in Sacramento. “California is essentially ungovernable in its present size,” Jefferson Declaration Committee spokesman Mark Baird told the Redding Record Searchlight. “We lack the representation to address the problems that affect the North State.”
There are plenty of other reasons for taxpayers to be upset about California governance. A new U.S. Census Bureau poverty analysis that takes into account the cost of living found that California has a poverty rate of 23 percent – the highest in the nation. In addition, California has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country (8.9 percent), some of the highest taxes, and one of the very worst business climates. Then there is what Gov. Jerry Brown has termed a “wall of debt” in the tens of billions of dollars, and unfunded pension liabilities in the hundreds of billions of dollars, which will serve as a yoke around the necks of both current and future generations.
California’s politics are plagued by gerrymandering, special interests that bleed taxpayers dry and manipulate their lives through heavy-handed regulations and nanny-state laws, and the domination by large cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Just about everyone – from all ends of the political spectrum – believes that California is broken and its political leadership is dysfunctional, as evidenced by the California Legislature’s barely-above-freezing 35 percent approval rating.
It probably shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that the state has become so politically unwieldy, and the California Legislature has grown so unresponsive to the interests of significant portions of the state’s population, that citizens are now looking to form their own governments. They probably figure there’s no way they could do worse than the politicians in Sacramento.
Adam B. Summers is a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. This column originally appeared in the Orange County Register (paid subscription required).