So, State of Jefferson fans, here’s my plan. I’m not claiming that it’s fleshed out entirely, and I’m not guaranteeing that it would work, but it’s a start.
First, Jefferson proponents would collect enough signatures for a state ballot initiative that would, as an amendment to the state constitution, allow self-selected counties to form an autonomous region, somewhat similar to self-governing Greenland, the Falkland Islands, and the tribal areas of northern Pakistan.
For 10 years, the Autonomous Region of Jefferson (ARJ) would forgo all subsidies from Sacramento except funding for the state universities (assuming Butte and Humboldt counties sign up to ARJ), the state prisons in Lassen and Del Norte counties, and the federal and state highway systems (to these, we would contribute our pro-rata share of the state of California’s costs).
For everything else, we would be on our own. We’d collect our own taxes and fees. We’d have our own ARJ constitution, regional governor, legislature, judiciary, regulations, retirement system for public employees—the whole enchilada. All current agreements pertaining to “our water” would stand. Future water agreements would be subject to negotiation. And let’s not kid ourselves and let the fringiest of extremists doom our efforts—federal law would still apply in the ARJ, and federal lands would remain federal lands. We’re talking about autonomy within California, not secession from the United States.
So that the voters would know exactly what they’d be voting to create (or reject), an ARJ Constitutional Convention would be held well before the vote on autonomy to determine what form our ARJ government would take. No doubt this would be a lively debate, with proposals ranging from a conservative, business-as-usual, GOP-dominated government; to a radical libertarian/anarchist region where the only government would consist of the limited powers granted to our various county sheriffs.
A decade of autonomy would demonstrate whether our grand experiment in local lawmaking and stand-on-our-own-feet economic policy would leave us flourishing, or have us begging California to take us back into the fold. During this decade of autonomy, the rest of California would relinquish little more than the ability to force their liberal ways upon our largely rural and conservative region, and would be spared the cost of subsidizing us. (A cost to Californians that we will have to greatly oversell when presenting the ballot initiative. Machiavellian, but necessary.)
If successful, ARJ would in 10 years have the persuasive evidence needed to back a second ballot initiative providing for even more autonomy—inching toward an eventual bid for statehood. And even if our grand experiment is successful by most reasonable metrics, but still fails to persuade others to grant us statehood, a thriving ARJ might help shift the politics of the entire state in a direction that is more palatable to rural Californians. At the very least, we would likely preserve into the future a semi-independence that would be valued by most citizens of the Autonomous Region of Jefferson.
Am I an advocate of my own proposition? I’ll go back to that scene from The Missouri Breaks: As I get older, the entertainment value of bold, even reckless propositions increases, sometimes in inverse proportion to their practicality. So yeah, I’ll sign that ballot petition and vote in favor of semi-autonomy. As for whether I’d choose to be entertained by ARJ from within or from afar, that decision would likely turn on what emerged from that ARJ constitutional convention. The self-governing Falkland Islands seem like a pleasant enough place to live. The semi-autonomous tribal regions of northern Pakistan, not so much.
Note to State of Jefferson movement’s current leadership: I’ve trademarked every permutation of “Autonomous Region of Jefferson” and “ARJ,” so don’t even think about a new line of flags, T-shirts, trucker hats, and beer koozies.
Read part one here.
Read part two here.