People driving through Gold Beach are greeted at the city limits by large, green signs with two “Xs” encircled by the words “The Great Seal of the State of Jefferson.”
Bewildered tourists might feel inclined to look up the state of Jefferson on their smart phones, but they shouldn’t worry.
They’re still in Oregon.
Outside Panther Den Pizza Parlor, a red pickup in the parking lot displays the same Jefferson State logo on the driver and passenger side doors.
The truck and the signs belong to Randy Waters, a proponent of creating the State of Jefferson, a proposed U.S. state that would span the contiguous, mostly rural area of southern Oregon and Northern California.
It’s a proposal that’s been bandied around since the 1850s.
Pulling on the bill of his green “State of Jefferson” baseball cap, Waters ignores his pizza and offers a strong handshake. His hand is rough, like the people who eke out a living in Curry County and aren’t afraid of hard work.
At the Curry County Fair this summer, Waters sold State of Jefferson caps, flags and T-shirts.
“Sales were brisk!” he said.
That’s good news for a man who wants to leave Oregon in his rear view mirror and “return local control of the government to local people.”
Waters is the Curry County contact for a movement that hopes to someday soon break away from northern California and southern Oregon and form the State of Jefferson. He cites over-regulation, over-taxation, and under-representation from California and Oregon.
Waters retrieves a pamphlet from his pocket, further making his case by adding the federal government to the mix.
“The federal governments over-reaching laws according to the U.S. Constitution under the 10th Amendment is the problem” he says. “We also believe people around here need a state with fewer agencies, less taxes, less bureaucracy. A state with sovereignty. With a lot more personal freedom.”
The Jefferson State movement is nothing new and has been around since 1850, when the new states of Oregon and California were territories turning into states themselves.
In 1852, a bill was introduced in the California State Legislature Meeting in Vallejo to carve up parts of Oregon and California for another state. The bill died in committee and was never acted upon but after some newspaper editorials in the Daily Alta of San Francisco continued to make the case for a state that would theoretically encompass the areas in California from Cape Mendocino north to Oregon’s Umpqua heads. The idea stayed alive with residents who felt they had been abandoned and ‘double-crossed’ by the state capitols of Sacramento and Salem, who seemed aloof to their needs.
Waters says Curry County residents got directly involved in 1935, when John C. Childs, a judge in Crescent City was upset about the “poor road conditions” of the roads along the redwood coast into Oregon. He ultimately declared himself “governor” of a movement known as “Jefferson.” The state he alluded to didn’t come to fruition, but soon after California improved the area’s roads.
Around 1940, three Curry County men — Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Elmer Bankus of Brookings, and Collier Buffington of Gold Beach — set about promoting the “State of Curry,” which originally would be composed of southern Oregon counties.
In October, 1941, the group decided it would be more beneficial to join some of the northern California counties, so a letter was dispatched to then California Governor Culbert L. Olson to set an appointment to make the transfer.
Issues of mineral rights, railroad expansion and the lack of sympathy for the local economies were sticking points, leading proponents to issue a State of Jefferson “Proclamation of Independence.
The State of Jefferson Citizens Committee, based in Yreka, California, took to the streets, stopping motorists every Thursdays by wielding deer rifles and target pistols.
Yellow “independence handbills” were handed to those sitting in their cars. Reports from the Jefferson State organizers archives say the California Highway Patrol weren’t impressed.
Next, Del Norte County District Attorney John Leon Childs was inaugurated as the governor of the State of Jefferson on December 4, 1941. But the committee’s momentum was crippled by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, when those in favor of splitting the state focused their efforts on the war effort.
Efforts to keep the movement alive over the last six decades have not amounted to much.
In 2013, Siskiyou County resident Mark Baird set out to see if the Jefferson State idea was still feasible and, according to Waters, the support remains overwhelming.
Within a three-year period, Baird, Waters and other proponents have been able to get 21 of 23 counties in northern California to file a Declaration of Separation. Del Norte County is a hold out, Waters says, “due to their concern about possibly losing funding for Pelican Bay Prison.”
Humbolt County hasn’t rendered a decision yet and is still in committee, he said.
In Curry County, the group meets once a month at the Panther Den Pizza Parlor to discuss how to get the word out to the public and for ways to sell and dispense Jefferson State merchandize.
The group needs $1 million dollars to pay a lawyer to approach the State of Oregon and the federal government in Washington D.C. and to file official Declaration of Separation papers — if the movement can secure eight to ten Oregon counties.
So far, four counties —Curry, Coos, Josephine and Jackson — are meeting in committees to decide if they will join the 21 counties already committed to leaving California. The criteria for a county to secure declarations of separation is the willingness of the majority of county commissioners to support the movement. In Curry that would be two out of three commissioners.
Waters is optimistic about the fledgling state’s chances based on what has already transpired in California.
“When that time comes, for Oregon, we will march on Salem and make our petition known on the capitol steps,” says Waters.
California proponents did just that on May 8 this year, filing a lawsuit in the state capitol claiming lack of representation and dissolution of vote. The next day, Waters says proponents contacted Kamala Harris, the California attorney general, and served him with the same lawsuit.
Those lawsuits are scheduled to be heard by the 9th Court of Appeals in San Francisco in August.
Waters says that regardless of the legal outcome, proponents are ready to take their case to the United States Supreme Court.
“We feel we have a 90 percent chance of winning,” he said.
The next step in making the State of Jefferson a reality would be a trip, with all the county declarations in hand, to Washington D.C., where a simple 51 percent majority vote by both the state legislature and Congress would create the new state.
Such action is non unprecedented. States have been split four times before: Vermont from New York, Maine from Massachusetts, and Kentucky and West Virginia from Virginia.
Benefits of statehood
“There are so many,” says Waters. “None of the money we (Curry County) send to Salem ever comes back here. Instead, it goes to outrageously expensive fast rail systems in Portland and building more bridges up there.
“We get zero from the O&C agreement for our trees and, in Jefferson State under the Equal Footing Agreement of the original 13 colonies, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will have no holdings in Jefferson State!”
Waters says that with a new state, income tax and property taxes will be abolished. To fund services the state fathers will enact “a small sales tax where everyone pays equally.”
There will be a realignment of the population with every county in the new state getting a state representative.
Waters says the idea of the State of Jefferson has caught the imagination of neighboring states.
“Nevada, Idaho and Washington have expressed interest in joining us,” he said.