REDDING (CBS13) — There are a growing number of Northern Californians who strongly believe that without splitting the state, their way of life will disappear forever.
The two biggest movements are called Six Californias and The State of Jefferson. Both are grassroots efforts that have one thing in common—saving their livelihoods through fair representation.
Northern California has been called the crown jewel of the state, but what you can’t see beneath the beauty of the environment is the political upheaval that’s been bubbling for decades.
“My name’s Robert Smith, and I’m just a guy who wants to fix things for his kids,” he said.
Smith is one of many who lives and works in northern rural counties like Shasta County and feels forgotten, ignored and disenfranchised.
He left his job with RLT Trucking in Redding a few weeks ago, when he says he saw the writing on the wall—his once-expanding company’s fleet was quickly shrinking.
“Every single one of these trucks used to have a driver in them, and now they’re out of work because of the smog in L.A.,” he said.
He blames strict air quality regulations that force them to retrofit older trucks with diesel filters. Those expensive repairs can cost as much as $17,000 per vehicle.
He says they’re regulations that serve no real purpose for the already-clean air of the northern part of the state.
“It’s really California’s one-size-fits-all policies that crush Northern California,” he said.
That issue is at the heart of one grassroots movement that’s been active since 1941.
Mark Baird is leading the Jefferson Declaration Committee, the effort to split California into two halves. Under this proposal, the northern half would be called The Jefferson State.
“We have been regulated out of business,” he said. “A small rural state, we’ll do just fine right from day 1, because we’re going to get a grip on a lot of the problems California is afraid or unwilling to face.”
A businessman, pilot and veteran, Baird is taking his group’s message from county to county and quickly getting each one to join the cause.
Three counties have already fully declared to withdraw: Modoc, Siskiyou, and Glenn counties.
Yuba County Supervisor John Nicoletti says northern counties can’t get laws that treat them fairly enacted, because they have no political pull.
“The north state is like hostages,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible to get an end result that is advantageous to our rural community.”
Sutter County Supervisor Stan Cleveland Jr. is frustrated by the fact that urban areas have the voting advantage. Los Angeles County alone has 34 representatives in the Assembly, compared to just five in the entire northern third of the state.
“They alone can wipe out all of the representation of the rural counties,” he said.
That sentiment toward the capital is summed up by folks like Del Mann who has lived in Yuba City his entire life.
“Taxation without representation, so you know what? Maybe we can send them a bunch of tea bags down the Sacramento River,” he said.
But then there’s the new kid on the separatist block, Tim Draper.
On Feb. 18, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist submitted his own initiative to the secretary of state called Six Californias.
He sees it not just as a Northern California problem, but a problem for the entire state.
“[The state will go] further in debt, we’re going to get worse services, we’re going to have worse infrastructure if we leave it the way it is,” he said. “This is an opportunity for Californians to start looking at governance in a new and local and fresher way.”
While Draper wouldn’t reveal how much he’s spending on the plan, he told us he’s going to do whatever it takes to get his proposal on the next ballot.
He bristles at how many Californians might consider his and other movement to split the state un-American.
“If our government is failing, we Americans will be the first to stand up and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to do something. We’ve gotta change something here,” he said.
He and his supporters will have a difficult road ahead of them. The State of Jefferson movement has been trying to split the state in half for more than 70 years without resolution.
“There are huge political hurdles that are insurmountable before that ever occurs,” said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “The rest of the United States would not want 10 extra senators from California.”
It’s a reality that’s being driven home every day for Smith.
“It’s just a bad situation that’s been foisted upon us by a government that doesn’t really care who they’re hurting,” Smith said.
But it’s one this growing group of Californians—Americans—believes is worth fighting for.
“This is survival for us,” Baird said. “We are going to act, because we must, or we won’t survive.”
Draper now has less than five months to collect 800,000 signatures to qualify the Six Californias initiative on the ballot.
Ultimately, though, it will take an act of Congress to approve the addition of any state to the union.