Long-distance runner Hervé Leconte wasn’t born in America, but he may understand the cost of freedom more than many who were.
The 57-year old Placerville man grew up in his native France hearing his mother recount the story of the Nazi occupation of his homeland and the allied invasion that resulted in Germany surrendering at the French Capital in 1944, ending the European conflict of World War II.
“I was born in Normandy and my mother was liberated by the Americans on D-Day,” Leconte said Thursday, during a break from a 500-mile run through 15 rural counties to draw attention to the lack of representation for citizens in Northern California. “She always remembered that too many young Americans died, but two seconds later – a big smile – and then say, ‘The Americans; the Americans; the Liberators.’ I was raised that way, already, that the Americans were the ones that delivered freedom.”
At a mid-day break at Library Park in Princeton, Leconte choked back tears when he spoke to a group of supporters about growing up in France, where the American armed forces were revered, and said he understood the sacrifices the people of the United States made, even as a young boy during the Vietnam War, when he saw his mother cry for the loss of more American lives for the sake of others.
“We always say that freedom is not free, and it’s easy to say,” Leconte added. “But sometimes you’ve got to fight for it. It may not always be weapons: Sometimes it’s words, with your votes and with actions.”
Leconte has been running for four years for numerous causes close to his heart. Last July, he ran from his hometown in El Dorado County to South Lake Tahoe to raise money for the families of the five peace officers ambushed and killed at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
This time, Leconte left his home in El Dorado County on July 29 and is running to show his support for the Citizens for Fair Representation, the group associated with the State of Jefferson movement.
He expects his journey to end today when he reaches Yreka in Siskiyou County.
In May, Citizens for Fair Representation filed a lawsuit in federal court against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, arguing that apportioning legislative districts equally by population has diluted the votes of those who live in rural counties.
Leconte and his wife Julie support either carving out 21 northern counties from California to form a separate state, or bringing back the pre-1966 Senate structure in which each county had one representative, and add more members to the State Assembly so that districts encompass far fewer residents.
Citizens for Fair Representation believes the current system has denied residents of Northern California an adequate voice at the State Capital.
“Even when I lived in Los Angeles, where I met my wife, I knew of a State of Jefferson that was suppose to be created before Pearl Harbor, but it was in the back of my mind,” Leconte said. “When I heard about the movement and heard that something was cooking, I said I wanted to be a part of it.”
Because he enjoys long-distance running, Leconte uses his passion to raise money and awareness for causes he believes in.
As of Thursday, Leconte had raised well over $1,000 for Citizens for Fair Representation to help with expenses relating to the lawsuit. The State of Jefferson legal fund has already raised more than $300,000, Jefferson officials said.
The court case is scheduled for Aug. 25, but that date is expected to change.
“We keep moving ahead and in the right way,” said Lew Manor, who heads the Colusa County State of Jefferson Committee.
Although many people believe the State of Jefferson movement is exclusively a conservative or libertarian movement, Manor said he has come to learn from speaking to liberals in the North State, that many of them, too, see the need for fair representation, the opportunity to make their own decisions, pay fewer taxes and have more money.
“It’s not just for conservatives,” Manor said. “It’s for everyone.”
The State of California has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety, arguing that the plaintiffs’ Constitutional arguments lack merit. The State believes that the current size of legislative districts has not deprived anyone of the right to vote nor has it diluted anyone’s vote, the motion states.
Whatever the judge’s decision, either to dismiss the lawsuit or advance it to a three-judge panel, Leconte and other Jefferson supporters believe the long quest for fair representation will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, no matter how long it takes.
“You don’t do something right because the satisfaction is going to be there right away,” said Leconte, before he set off from Princeton with American and State of Jefferson flags attached to his backpack. “You do something right, because something is right. If it takes time, then it takes time. Time is a human invention anyway…and we do things because it’s the right thing to do.” ■