State of delusion

Movement to secede from state government little more than fantasy

A movement to carve a new state out of Northern California and possibly Southern Oregon has a certain romantic appeal, but there is next to no chance it will happen, and if it did it would be a disaster.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last week to approve the idea of seceding from the state of California. Congratulations to Board Chairman Ed Valenzuela, who proved by voting no that some Siskiyou County residents retain a grip on reality.

The idea of a "state of Jefferson" dates back to the 1940s, when residents of Northern California and Southern Oregon seriously considered forming a new state in the belief that their respective regions were being ignored by the governments in Sacramento and Salem. That effort petered out when the country entered World War II. The notion — and the name — have lived on, but not in a serious way, until now.

The grievances of secession supporters are understandable and familiar: State governments impose regulations from afar and extract taxes and fees, hampering the local economy. The idea seems to be that a new state could charge ahead, build a robust economy unfettered by "big government," and everyone would live happily ever after.

The reality would be quite different.

For starters, the economy supporters frequently tout is timber-based. The problem is, most timberlands in the region are controlled not by the state but by the federal government, and creating a new state would not change that.

Another huge obstacle would be the need to create a new state government from scratch. And that would be necessary, despite any dreams of a libertarian paradise.

A new state would require a legislature to enact laws, a court system to enforce them, police protection, highway maintenance and at least some social services.

Those who would advocate "limited government" to replace what exists now should look to Josephine County, which is dismantling its public safety system, and imagine removing all state services as well, plus those paid for with federal dollars but administered by the state. That would mean no more unemployment compensation, no more food stamps, no more worker's compensation.

Finally, backers of the secession movement seem to have the impression that everyone who lives in what would become a new state is as politically conservative as they are. Not only is that not true, most conservatives who resent state government do not dream of returning to a frontier society.

This latest expression of frustration with the status quo may allow its proponents to let off some steam, but little is likely to come of it. In the end, the state of Jefferson will remain where it belongs: as a state of mind and a T-shirt logo.

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