El Dorado … State? Residents explore California break-up

Odin Rasco / Mountain Democrat
Sharon Durst, left, shares her plan for how El Dorado County could split away from California and become its own state. Former supervisor Ray Nutting, right, also spoke at the event, explaining his belief that El Dorado County would be able to operate as a viable state.
Odin Rasco/Mountain Democrat

A group of residents from El Dorado County met May 24 at the El Dorado Community Hall to discuss a newly devised plan to split a state off California. Rather than the State of Jefferson or New California State plans that aim to carve off a third or half the state, this new plan aims much smaller — making El Dorado County into El Dorado State.

It is a truth long-documented that as long as there have been Californians, there have been people who wanted to stop being Californians without the hassle of moving. 

California was officially granted statehood Sept. 9, 1850; legislative records show that less than two years later, on April 5, 1852, Assemblyman N.R. Wood introduced legislation that would have separated California into two states. Wood’s legislation ultimately failed to gain traction, setting a pattern that would repeat itself time and again; in California’s 172 years as a state, more than 220 documented attempts to split it up have occurred, according to California State Library archives.

Sharon Durst, a Somerset resident, is well aware of the tradition of state-splitting, having been involved with the most recent State of Jefferson movement. Though signs and flags in support of Jefferson still adorn some lawns and flagpoles along the foothills and in Northern California, false starts at statehood attempts have slowed the movement’s traction significantly. Durst explained she too had moved on from the “dead” movement and thought she was done with any other statehood attempts, but the ideas kept coming along until she had a “eureka moment.”

“I just thought to myself one day, it would make just as much sense to just turn El Dorado County into a state,” Durst said. “And then it clicked; why couldn’t we be a state? We already have an established government structure. We have a wealth of natural resources. Why couldn’t we be a state?”

The meeting in late May touched on a plethora of points, with Durst starting by explaining why she and many others felt splitting into a smaller state was so important.

“We want control of our government, of our schools and of our way of life. We’re pioneer stock around here and we have that indomitable spirit. We have a republican — not Republican Party, mind you, we aren’t aligned with any political party — form of government but we do not have proper representation,” Durst proclaimed. She explained that legislators in state government, let alone California’s representatives in the federal government, are called on to represent a portion of the population well beyond what the founding fathers had intended.

The plan, according to Durst, is simple; refer to the founding documents and use them as a basis for a split from California. Durst provided annotated copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (Durst explained to the group that the name was inaccurate, and should be referred to as the Constitution for the United States), which she used as the basis for her rationale. 

“Article IV Section 3 holds us hostage, almost,” Durst told the small audience. “But I read it and re-read it, thinking, ‘the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence wouldn’t have left us out to dry like that.'”

Durst builds her case on two core elements; one, that Article IV Section 4 guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion”; and two, the language in the Declaration of Independence which refers to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as opposed to the laws of man. 

To the first point, Durst contends the portion of citizens represented in state government is not properly republican as it stifles representation, and that undocumented immigration across California’s southern border is tantamount to an invasion. The state constitution is a form of contract with California’s citizens and, as such, the failure of California’s government to uphold the bargain puts the government in breach of that contract, Durst explained.

To the second point, Durst explains the U.S. has not properly hewed to the laws of nature, claiming that it transitioned to corporate law when the government was surreptitiously converted into a corporation in 1871. 

In the laws of nature, Durst believes, the resolution to a complaint is to go back to the beginning and undo something; Durst reckons that, as El Dorado County was extant prior to California’s statehood, the laws of nature would allow the county to “undo” its incorporation into the state. 

Politifact, an American nonprofit fact-checking project operated by the Poynter Institute, has in the past disputed claims similar to Durst’s, finding the assumption the U.S. was changed into a corporation rests on a misinterpretation of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871. 

Both “backdoors to statehood,” as Durst called them, focus on taking an approach not taken in the hundreds of other state-splitting attempts by going to Congress directly rather than working within California’s own legislative system. Further technical details — taxation, representation models, navigating what happens to state-owned lands and equipment such as police vehicles were all asked about by audience members but were not touched on in detail by Durst as the meeting was primarily to gauge support.

“We don’t want to sink too much time or money into this until we know if there’s support out there for the idea,” Durst said. 

Durst was accompanied by a friend and neighbor who was brought in to speak to the potential viability of a theoretical El Dorado State — former El Dorado County supervisor Ray Nutting. 

Nutting represented District 2 for eight years beginning in 1993 and another six years beginning in 2008 prior to his seat being vacated due to legal issues. In 2014 Nutting was found guilty on misdemeanor charges of accepting loans from county employees or contractors.

According to Nutting, El Dorado County’s natural resources, tourism industry, agriculture and history put it in a favorable position to assume statehood. 

“Look at this county; we have visitors, historic economic engines like lumber and mining and agriculture like in Apple Hill,” Nutting remarked. “It’s astounding how we have an abundance of resources, both human and natural.”

Echoing his prior platform when running for supervisor, Nutting shared that California had mismanaged the forests in the county, leading to the rash of wildfires in recent years. Nutting explained as its own state the region would have freedom to more proactively manage the forests and avoid another Caldor Fire-type event, while allowing the lumber industry to prosper again in the area.

Common themes were present in both Nutting’s and Durst’s speeches, reflecting dissatisfaction with California’s “tyrannical” approach to government. Durst made an example of how her contract for event insurance for the meeting was a sizable stack of paper, when times in her career decades earlier she could make contracts with Wells Fargo officials on a single sheet of paper; she said that the ballooning of contract size both mirrors and is caused by California’s legislature passing hundreds of bills a year.

Nutting concurred with Durst’s point, chiming in “There are so many laws on the books you basically are breaking the law just going out the door in the morning.”

There are plans to convene again, with the hope that word of mouth will eventually lead to the establishment of regional meetings in the county’s districts with the ultimate goal of a petition signing to establish intent to separate from the state. The granular details of state operations would be worked through as the movement developed, Durst assured the group.

More information about the El Dorado State effort can be found at

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