Towns that have never recovered from the gold rush

This again. “There are millions of City People in this state so we Rural People get ignored.”

Well, since there are far fewer Rural People and politics is people-based, that’s kind of inevitable, isn’t it. Actually Rural People are heavily over-represented in the US, because of the two senators per state rule. Montana, Wyoming, Nevada all have smaller populations than many US cities, yet they get their two senators and so do California and New York and Texas. So frankly I’m kind of tired of hearing about how Rural People resent the fact that they get ignored.

“When people see you’re from California, they instantly think of ‘Baywatch,’” said Mr. Johnson, the associate pastor of Bethel Redding, a megachurch in this small city a three-and-a-half-hour drive north of San Francisco. “It’s very different here from the rest of California.”

Mr. Johnson lives in what might be described as California’s Great Red North, a bloc of 13 counties that voted for President Trump in November and that make up more than a fifth of the state’s land mass but only 3 percent of its population.

From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, California projects an image as an economically thriving, politically liberal, sun-kissed El Dorado. It is a multiethnic experiment with a rising population, where the percentage of whites has fallen to 38 percent.

California’s Great Red North is the opposite, a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.

And it’s very very sparsely populated, so what do you want us to do about it? It’s like the people who live in tiny towns in West Virginia and wonder why there are no jobs. I can tell them why there are no jobs: because tiny towns never have a huge array of jobs, because they’re tiny towns. That’s always been a major reason people moved to cities: to find work. It’s in the nature of sparsely populated areas that they don’t have all the amenities of cities, and that they don’t always have a lot of political influence…except, again, in the Senate.

The residents of this region argue that their political voice is drowned out in a system that has only one state senator for every million residents.

Meaning what? That instead there should be one state senator per X number of square miles? That the rural north should be wildly over-represented while the cities are wildly under-represented? How would that be fair? Why should square miles have votes instead of people?

This sentiment resonates in other traditionally conservative parts of California, including large swaths of the Central Valley, which runs down the state, and it mirrors red and blue tensions felt in areas across the country. But perhaps nowhere else in California is the alienation felt more keenly than in the far north, an arresting panorama of fields filled with wildflowers and depopulated one-street towns that have never recovered from the gold rush.

“People up here for a very long time have felt a sense that we don’t matter,” said James Gallagher, a state assemblyman for the Third District, which is a shorter drive from the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon than from the beaches of San Diego. “We run this state like it’s one size fits all. You can’t do that.”

Blah blah blah. You could always take over a wildlife refuge.

Taxation and hunting are two issues northerners are quick to seize upon when criticizing laws they feel are unfairly imposed by the state. But there are also more fundamental issues related to incomes and job opportunities that split California into a two-speed economy.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, unemployment rates hover around 3 percent. In the far north, where many timber mills have shut down in recent years, unemployment is as high as 6 percent in Shasta County and 16.2 percent in Colusa County.

Because industries shut down as technologies change. That happens. One possible solution would be to adapt accordingly. Another apparently would be to vote for Trump. How’s he doing on that bringing the timber industry back to Shasta County thing?

United States Representative Doug LaMalfa, a Republican representing Northern California’s First District, blames regulations that have shut down industries for the economic disparities.

“They’ve devastated ag jobs, timber jobs, mining jobs with their environmental regulations, so, yes, we have a harder time sustaining the economy, and therefore there’s more people that are in a poorer situation.”

The agriculture, timber and mining industries, on the other hand, have done no damage to anything at all, and if left alone could continue into infinity. Or something.

Residents here have long backed a different proposal for a separate state, one that would be carved out of Northern California and the southern reaches of Oregon. Flags of the so-called State of Jefferson, which was first proposed in the 19th century, fly on farms and ranches around the region.

Jefferson, named after the president who once envisioned establishing an independent nation in the western section of North America, is more a state of mind than a practicable proposal. Many see it as unrealistic for a region that has plenty of water and timber but perhaps not enough wealth to wean itself away from engines of the California economy.

Precisely. If they did that I wager most of them would not like the results.

“I wake up in the morning and think, ‘What is California going to do to me today?’’’ said Mr. Baird, a former airline pilot who owns a ranch about an hour’s drive from the Oregon border. In a grass valley framed by low-lying hills, Mr. Baird’s pastures are filled with his small herd of buffalo and a few pens of horses and donkeys.

Mr. Baird complains of restrictions on the types of guns he can own. “It’s tyranny by the majority,” he said. “The majority should never be able to deprive the minority of their inalienable rights.”

Of their genuine rights, no. Of highly debatable rights? Different story.

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