Jefferson advocates differ on strategies

YREKA — The movement to separate Siskiyou County from Sacramento has gathered support across the north state, but a meeting this week of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors revealed a split in the efforts to create autonomy for rural populations.

On Tuesday, the board discussed was how to proceed with the "Republic of Jefferson Territory" initiative, which has gathered enough signatures to be put to a countywide vote. In the end, the board agreed to put it on the June 3 ballot, but not before questioning whether it was the best path to follow.

The Republic of Jefferson Territory initiative seeks to set up a framework within Siskiyou County for voters to create a new government. In contrast, the separate Jefferson declaration movement seeks to withdraw a number of counties from California to form the state of Jefferson.

While both groups have cited similar reasons for forming, the meeting Tuesday revealed the rift — and the tension — between the two groups as they offer competing theories on how to separate from the state of California.

Siskiyou County residents were given the first chance to speak on the issue, and Republic of Jefferson Territory supporter Leo T. Bergeron told the board that he believes that the initiative would achieve the goals of the Jefferson movement. He said he wanted to see the initiative on the June 3 ballot.

"It's the people's voice that counts," he said.

Liz Bowen, a member of the statehood movement, had a different view of the initiative. "I believe in the state of Jefferson but do not believe in this project," she said, citing concerns that people do not understand what the initiative could achieve and that voters have confused the initiative with the statehood movement.

Prominent statehood spokesman Mark Baird echoed Bowen's concerns, stating, "I suggest it will not accomplish what the founders say it will."

One final voice, representing neither movement, was that of Mina Wilson, who said she was concerned that the initiative would have the county "moving down a path and nobody has a map."

"Without a plan, there's chaos," Wilson said.

When the discussion moved to the board, it echoed that of the constituents. District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong voiced her concerns that the initiative does not have a clear path forward, stating that she believes it would be "laying another layer on top of" the jurisdictions that already exist in Siskiyou County.

"I know nothing about what this actually is," District 4 Supervisor Grace Bennett said.

Ultimately, District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela, acknowledging the successful gathering of petition signatures, said that he believes the voters should be the ones to decide the fate of the initiative to declare the Republic of Jefferson Territory within the borders of Siskiyou County.

Three of his fellow board members agreed when it went to a vote, and the decision to put the initiative on the June 3 ballot passed 4-1, with Bennett casting the dissenting vote.

County Counsel Brian Morris, who drafted the initiative's language, told the board that if voters pass the Republic of Jefferson Territory measure, other initiatives will follow to set up the various facets of the plan.

In September, the board of supervisors voted to support the declaration to withdraw from California in support of the statehood movement, also by a vote of 4-1.

Skeptics of the plan note that both Congress and the California Legislature would have to approve of any effort to create a new state or to withdraw from California and say there is no likelihood of that happening.

David Smith is a reporter with the Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka. Reach him at

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