I’m a sucker for lost causes and the State of Jefferson is more lost than most. The quixotic notion that a half-million citizens in northern California and southern Oregon’s rural counties, frustrated with lack of representation at the state level, should band together, break away and form their own 51st state is not without merit.
It also has a certain romantic appeal, symbolized by the “double-cross” on the Great Seal of the State of Jefferson—the twin evils of Sacramento and Salem are crossed out— which dates back to a similar rural revolt during the Great Depression.
Like moth to flame, I’ve found myself attracted to the increasing number of green-and-yellow State Of Jefferson billboards and signs springing up alongside our highways and roads. I understand that the legislative hurdles for statehood are almost impossible to clear. Instead, I prefer to think of Jefferson as a framework. What would and could we do, if we banded together and chose to have our own rural state and focus on our own rural problems?
It was not as a journalist, but in the hopes of meeting like-minded individuals that I attended a Jefferson State town hall meeting this past Sunday, at the Senior Citizens Hall near the Lake Redding Golf Course.
Unfortunately, instead of a town hall meeting, the event would be better described as a tent show in which carnival show barker Mark Baird and the State of Jefferson Hat, T-shirt and Bumper Sticker Co. hawked their wares to senior citizens on fixed incomes. I was so completely offended, I walked out of the meeting no more than five minutes after Baird began speaking.
To be sure, my exit had much to do with Baird’s warm-up act, a tall, rather scraggly fellow who repeatedly asked the audience to applaud if they loved things such as “freedom” and “liberty” and hectored those who didn’t. He asked all of the veterans to stand, and being a veteran I stood up with a score of other vets. I gazed about the room and saw mostly older, mostly white faces. They broke into thunderous applause, thanking us for our service. The warm-up act continued his hectoring routine, and I now somehow felt complicit in it.
Baird opened by pointing out that geographically, southern Oregon and northern California’s rural counties do indeed carry less legislative clout than more densely populated regions. For example, the rural counties that comprise California’s portion of Jefferson are about one-third of California’s land area, but only have three state assembly members and three state senators. The remaining two-thirds of the state has 77 assembly members and 37 senators. There’s no question that you if you live in the sticks, your needs aren’t necessarily on the front burner in Sacramento.
I could see that etched plainly across the weathered faces of the people in the room, many of whom were undoubtedly on social security and/or food stamps. Poor people live hard lives, and white rural poverty is one of the most under-reported stories in the United States. Poor whites correctly perceive that the media and to some extent the government have forgotten them. Bitterness and resentment, mixed with the odor of stale urine from the over-worked public restroom, filled the hall. Many were donning brand new green-and-yellow hats and t-shirts, easy marks for Baird and his merry band of Jefferson state hucksters.
The problem with lost causes is just that, they’re lost. I’d come to the town hall meeting with an open mind. I gritted my teeth through the decision not to use a non-denominational prayer for the invocation. I placed my hat on my heart and mumbled my way through the pledge of allegiance. I endured the warm-up act’s relentless shaming of any one not on board with the State of Jefferson program. Baird, who has all the charisma of a cigar store Indian, was droning on about the food stamps program when I lost it.
“The government is coming into the kitchen to take your groceries and give them to someone else,” he said to a room full of poor people. I’m not sure if the audience agreed or disagreed because smoke started coming out of my ears. I stood, did an about-face, and marched out of the hall, head visibly vibrating, feeling their eyes on me all the way out.
They don’t have to worry about me coming back.