Opinion: 'State of Jefferson' sends message

Opinion: 'State of Jefferson' sends message
In this Feb. 20, 2008 file photo, a skull with a State of Jefferson sticker is shown at the Palace Barber Shop in Yreka, Calif. Supervisors in the far Northern California county where residents are fed up with what they see as a lack of representation at the state capitol and overregulation, have voted in favor of separating from the state. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 for a declaration of secession. The vote appears mostly symbolic since secession would require approval from the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress, but supporters say it would restore local control over decision making. They want other rural counties in Northern California and Southern Oregon to join them in the creation of a new state called the State of Jefferson. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The (Klamath Falls) Herald and News, Sept. 9, on the "State of Jefferson" secession movement

Take a look at a Klamath Falls phone book and you will find businesses with the name "Jefferson" in the title. It also shows up in the titles of local organizations and events.

It is almost a symbol in Southern Oregon and Northern California of the distance in geography, culture and politics that separate rural parts of the two states from their centers of political power.

The subject came up last week as Siskiyou County, which includes the Tulelake area, endorsed a movement to secede from California and form a new state along with neighboring counties.

In the past, such proposals have sparked an interest in Southern Oregon, including Klamath County and part of Nevada.

In 1941, it was on the front burner. While it had, at best, only a semi-serious look, there were significant issues at the core, such as the lack of response from Salem and Sacramento to the poor roads and bridges that hurt efforts to develop the region's abundant natural resources.

The "State of Jefferson" even elected a governor, but the issue died when Japan attacked the United States, Dec. 7, 1941, and the nation's attention turned to World War II. But feelings of being ignored remained.

Times change, feelings remain

California is the nation's biggest state in population, with about 38 million people, and its third biggest in land area. It's bigger than many countries by any measure. So, it has huge problems with proper governance.

There's a similar feeling in Klamath County, though in some respects we think it isn't as bad as it was, say 40 years ago, when a visitor could walk through Klamath Falls and wonder what state he was in.

That was when the San Francisco Chronicle was readily available for sale on the streets and the Herald and News regularly ran the popular Herb Caen column about Bay Area personalities. Giants' and 49er ball games were broadcast on local radio, a TV "super station" from Oakland piped Bay Area news into Klamath County and when people talked about going somewhere for the weekend to have a good time, they were more likely to be talking about San Francisco or Reno than Portland.

Things changed and improvement in communications in various ways helped to reconnect Klamath County with the rest of the state. It's easier to get information about state government these days, thanks to the Internet and websites that let people track legislative bills and interact with state government.

Even as contact with state government has improved, Eastern Oregon political power has waned.

Political clout weakens

Part of the reason might be the 1964 "one man, one vote" ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that whittled away at the region's representation in Salem. Until then, Oregon legislative senate district boundaries depended more on geography than population, and Eastern Oregon didn't automatically lose political representation when its part of the state senate grew proportionately smaller.

That was also true for California and other states, and beginning with the 1970 census, boundaries of both houses of the state legislatures depended entirely on population, instead of only the state House of Representatives. Since then, Eastern Oregon senate districts kept getting bigger in area, and more of the districts — and their legislative votes — were moved to western Oregon, where the people were.

As more political power flowed to the urban areas of Oregon and California, a more restrictive and regulatory attitude toward use of natural resources developed, and differences in values between urban and rural were a part of that.

We don't know where Siskiyou County's effort will go. But if it can at least deliver a message that gets heard, that will be worth something.