Representatives of two counties in far Northern California petitioned state officials Thursday for the right to form a 51st state called Jefferson, formally asking state lawmakers to vote on their proposal.
Modoc and Siskiyou counties, which share a border with Oregon and have a combined population of about 53,000, submitted petitions from their county governments to the secretaries of the state Assembly and Senate after filing a petition complaining about a lack of representation to the secretary of state.
Organizer Mark Baird told a crowd of about 70 supporters at a rally outside the state Capitol that residents of as many as 10 counties "would be free to create a small state with limited government."
"We don't need government from a state telling people in a county what to do with their resources and their children's education. You are better equipped to educate your children than the state or federal government," Baird said to applause.
Six counties have so far approved plans to pursue secession, either through elected officials or at the ballot box, and supporters plan to submit more petitions in the coming months. Voters in two counties considered the idea in the June primary, with Tehama voters approving secession and Del Norte voters rejecting it.
On Thursday, supporters waved flags and wore T-shirts bearing the movement's logo: two X's and a coiled snake that said "State of Jefferson. Don't tread on me."
Later, a group of about 10 of them pushed past the dozens of lobbyists lining the halls of the Capitol for the final week of legislative session to deliver their petitions to the clerks' offices, where staff members were slightly confused.
"We fully expect to be ignored," Baird said.
The filings were the first step in building a legal case that supporters believe will allow them to secede from California. They say the U.S. Constitution allows a region to petition the government for secession. If lawmakers ignore the petition, Jefferson proponents say it will give them standing to file a lawsuit.
Critics question how an area with a relatively low tax base and small population could afford to pay for basic services such as schools and roads.
"It would reawaken the rural economy if it were unleashed from urban control," said Brandon Criss, a Siskiyou County supervisor who voted for secession. "California has over 500 government agencies micromanaging the people."
Residents would choose how to set up their government, which services to provide and how to pay for them, he said.
Earlier this summer, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper submitted signatures for a ballot initiative seeking to split California into six separate states, including a northern one to be called Jefferson. If his petition has enough valid signatures, it could appear on the statewide ballot in 2016.
Baird said Draper's heart is in the right place but that his proposal would not have the required legal standing.