America's 51st state: 'It's a state of mind mostly'

ROSEBURG, Ore. - The locals at Brix Grill enjoy stirring up controversy along with their breakfast.

Lately, the State of Jefferson has been a topic of debate.

"I think there's a lot of validity to the fact that people feel they're sort of pushed aside," said Charley Thompson.

It's a feeling that has gained some traction.

In September, Siskiyou and Modoc counties in California passed declarations stating their desire to withdraw from California and form a 51st state: Jefferson.

Secession isn't without precedent.

Five counties in Colorado symbolically voted to secede earlier this month from that state.

The last state to pull this off was West Virginia, which left Virginia in 1863.

The State of Jefferson is an idea that dates back to the 1940s, and originally included both Douglas and Coos counties in Oregon.

If the State of Jefferson came to be, it would radically change the geography of Oregon. Suddenly, Lane County would become the southernmost point in the state along the border with Jefferson.

The desire to be part of a new, more rural state resonates in southwest Oregon.

"It's a sign of frustration they and many of us feel," said Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson.

Robertson said restrictions placed on the timber industry by politicians in Salem have hampered development in the area and cost the county jobs. He periodically hears from constituents about secession, but Robertson said it's a long-shot.

"I wouldn't suggest it's impossible because nothing is impossible," he said. "I think it's very very difficult."

Professor Peter Laufer agrees. The University of Oregon journalism professor just released a book on the subject, "The Elusive State of Jefferson."

Laufer said the 51st state will always be a pipe dream - but one some genuinely believe in.

"There are plenty of people I've talked with throughout the region both in Oregon and California who insist it's not just a possibility, it's going to happen," Laufer said. "It's only a matter of time."

He doesn't expect secessionists to raise a flag or station armed guards at a mythical border like they did in the 1940s, but Laufer said their concerns are legitimate.

"We as Oregonians and Californians need to give a lot of attention to this region because it's suffering economically, severely," Laufer said.

And while it may not be a political reality, some already consider themselves residents of the 51st state.

"I live in the State of Jefferson," Thompson said. "It's a state of mind mostly."