A New Effort For An Old Idea To Divide The Northwest: Today Until Now

The Greater Idaho movement has made a lot of headlines in recent months. It is a new effort based on a very old storyline and it faces many challenges.

This post originally appeared in KUOW’s Today So Far newsletter dated May 26, 2023.

The “Greater Idaho” movement is the latest effort in the Northwest to promote that people would be better off doing things more the same and avoiding our differences. The idea here is to move the border between eastern Oregon and Idaho to the Cascades. This means that eastern Oregon would become part of Idaho. As I’ve pointed out here before, the resulting map of Idaho would look like a giant middle finger.

According to “Greater Idaho” spokesman Matt McCaw, there is a logic behind the idea. Eastern Oregon, “Vote like Idaho, live your life like Idaho, I’d rather have the state government of the state of Idaho.” McCaw recently told Soundside that there’s also the classic argument that has divided the US since its inception: rural versus urban. Lifestyles are different between the two, but there are a lot more people, also known as voters, in the cities.

“The west side of Oregon votes very Democratic, it leans to the left, it’s more urban, it’s wealthier, it’s less agricultural,” McCaw said. “The east side of the state is conservative, rural, has a different economy, votes differently…Oregon has a major urban area, which is the Portland metropolitan area. That Portland metropolitan area has 2 million people. The metropolitan area You decide, it’s implemented statewide, and there’s nothing Eastern Oregonians can do about it. Even if that’s not what they want for their communities. Even if they vote overwhelmingly against any policy that gets enacted. They just they don’t. I have the numbers to beat the other side of the state.”

Issues aside, you have to admit that such a scenario would make anyone feel pretty helpless. Maybe it’s easy for me to comment on news like this, because I live on the side of the mountain that usually gets what it wants. Of course, there are issues at play among all of this, and they are hot topics. There was a movement to reduce drug possession offenses to a civil citation in Oregon. The east side was not in favor, the west side voted for it. There was also a gun control measure that the east side did not favor, but the west side got the better of them again.

The border movement also attracts some in Idaho, because Oregon has legalized cannabis. Some Idaho lawmakers seem to associate marijuana with the problems of harder drugs like opiates and methamphetamine. By moving the Oregon border, many feel it would move the availability of Oregon’s cannabis away from its largest city, Boise (clearly, these Idaho legislators were never funny at any college party they attended).

“Self-determination matters,” McCaw said. “Where is that state line right now between Oregon and Idaho, it makes no sense and is causing more problems than it is solving. We can move it, solve problems, reduce political tension and get good results.”

It sounds great, intriguing, and worth a lot of clicking. But this kind of reaction is not uncommon, and efforts to divide, secede, move the borders, or secede have emerged in the Northwest since the 19th century. There is the idea of ​​the Jefferson State which was intended to create a new state out of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. There has been pressure for a Lincoln state, to be divided into eastern Washington and the Idaho peninsula. In 1937, a Clark County representative wanted to make King County his own state, using an urban versus rural argument. There was also an effort in the 1990s to carve up eastern King County into a new “Cedar County”. Once again, the basis was an urban versus rural debate.

In 2016, a group of supporters of a new nation called Cascadia came together in Seattle. That country would be formed by combining Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Around the same time, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, there was an effort to put Oregon to secede from the United States to a vote.

Then there’s Liberty State, promoted by former state legislator Matt Shea. This idea of ​​forming a theocracy, er, I mean, a new state, would divide eastern and western Washington. After Shea allegedly dabbled in domestic terrorism and left office, other state Republicans took up the idea in Olympia.

In fact, historian Feliks Banel once noted that people have attempted to carve out new states or move borders throughout the Northwest some 20 times between 1896 and 2019, mostly related to the Lincoln or Liberty states. None have gotten far. Probably because it is quite a difficult task. In short, you would have to convince the locals that they want it. Then the state Legislature has to vote in favor (two state Legislatures if it’s two states). So Congress has to approve the whole plan.

This latest effort means eastern Oregon would be in estimated $4-6 billion in debt. That side of the state is heavily subsidized by wealthier western Oregon. Idaho would also have to subsidize them, although it would be cheaper. On top of all that is the fact that white supremacist ideologies have been behind many, many earlier ideas about moving borders and creating new states in the Northwest. Like it or not, it is a fact that proponents will have to address. McCaw said that people who mention that are promoting “baseless smears” that have nothing to do with his movement.

Those are the challenges facing the Greater Idaho movement now, but they’ve still found some who are open to the idea on both sides of the border. Idaho lawmakers voted to hear from Oregonians about it, but it was just to talk. So far, a total of 12 eastern Oregon counties have voted in favor of the idea.

There’s another potential problem with the Greater Idaho plan, according to University of Oregon political science professor Joe Lowndes: Politics change over time. Who can say what the political leanings of these areas will be in the coming years?

“If you ask residents of eastern or southern Oregon what rural values ​​meant 100 years ago, during the populist movement, rural values ​​meant holding big financial interests accountable, having more regulation on banks, more regulation on the steel industry, the railways,” Lowndes said. sound side.

When Eastern Washington wanted to secede in 1896, the central issue was bimetallism, a topic so far away today that I have to explain it. Basically, it is about monetary policies and the value of precious metals.

Lowndes admits these areas are more conservative, but points out that movement organizers emphasize hot-button national issues, such as critical race theory, trans issues, Covid mandates, and a variety of others that have no inherent ties to being a resident. rural, farmer, rancher, etc.

Those are a lot of hard truths for Greater Idaho to handle. Here’s another one for the entire region: With great power comes great responsibility. If you don’t play nice and consider your neighbor, then you are driving a gap and creating an opportunity for extreme elements to step in and fill that gap.

I can go on and talk about how playing in bands that crossed different genres made for better music and better musicians. I could also quote people who have already said this better than I have, such as “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Or “If you don’t realize your assumptions, they may turn out to be lies. Turn them into questions and they will bring you closer to the truth.” He could even speak of wise lessons from the Vulcans. But instead, I’ll refer to something a Seattle pastor/barista once told me.

Ahead of the 2020 election, I spoke to Coté Soerens about how she handles tense politics, especially when she holds her own beliefs firmly.

“I am mainly a neighbor. That’s the most sacred thing we can be, to be neighbors,” Sorens said. “I land where the care of the neighbors is highest. If we are so abandoned that we forget about good relationships and taking care of each other, I back off a bit. A little bit. When you start yelling at people, or you start demonizing people, I’m not that far to the left.”

Watch the full segment of Soundside in Greater Idaho here.

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