Due to recent changes in western state borders, legislators in Idaho are eager to begin negotiations.
In response to demands that rural eastern Oregon effectively secedes from the liberal state and join the more conservative Idaho, leaders in both states have expressed support for moving the border between them.
The Greater Idaho movement, which seeks to absorb roughly 13 counties in Oregon (representing 63% of the state’s landmass and 9% of its population), received support from former Oregon House Speaker Mark Simmons this past weekend when Simmons published an opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman.
The people of Idaho “would have the satisfaction of freeing rural, conservative communities from progressive blue-state law,” as Simmons put it. Oregon’s state government’s attacks on our resource-based way of life and disregard for our values led to the Republican victory in 2016 in 75% of our counties (67% in Idaho voted Democratically).
Simmons claims that the presence of Oregon’s pharmacies degrades the standard of living in Idaho, so residents of eastern Oregon would benefit from a change in the state border.
As a result of the overwhelming rejection of ballot measures to legalize marijuana and decriminalize hard drugs by voters in every county in eastern Oregon, he argued that incorporating those areas into Idaho would safeguard the state’s traditional values of religious tolerance, family values, and personal liberties.
Simmons wrote the piece in response to a resolution passed by the Idaho House of Representatives earlier this month that expressed opposition to relocating the border between Idaho and Oregon and instead called for formal talks between the legislatures of the two states.
Although Republicans hold a slim majority in the Idaho Senate, the bill’s chances of becoming law are low.
Greater Idaho’s spokesman, Matt McCaw, is confident that the measure will pass and that the organization will achieve its goals, despite widespread skepticism.
He told KGW, an Oregon NBC affiliate, that worrying about the issue was futile because “this will never happen.” If you propose something new, some people are bound to dismiss it as ridiculous and cast you aside.
As negotiations began, several lawmakers publicly stated their support for the bill.
Rep. Lance Clow, a Republican from Idaho, doubted that this would happen.
Idaho Democrat Colin Nash joked that the proposal could be revised to include the entire state of Montana to gain a House seat.
Changing state lines requires approval from both the Idaho and Oregon legislatures and the federal government. Oregon Democrats may be less receptive to the idea, despite their colleagues in Idaho’s legislature supporting it. Dennis Linthicum, a Republican state senator, has introduced a bill to begin negotiations with Idaho. However, the likelihood of the bill making it past the committee stage is extremely low.
Even though eleven counties in eastern Oregon have passed ballot measures to investigate the idea and greater Idaho proponents claim that a majority of Idahoans are in favor of expanding the state’s borders, surveys show that the population of Oregon has split down the middle, with roughly 20% of residents still on the fence about the proposal.
Some people are afraid that Idaho will “self-segregate by ideology” if it grows, and the state’s finances are already being stressed by the high rate of Medicaid enrollment in rural areas. It has been argued that Idaho’s legislators should put Oregonians’ interests ahead of those of their state.
If the borders of Idaho were redrawn, the Claremont Institute estimates that the state of Idaho would receive an additional $170,000,000 annually in revenue.
To seek “political refuge,” Simmons claimed, people are “moving to Idaho” from “blue states.” Most of Oregon merging with Idaho would reduce strain on the housing market, shorten commute times, and prevent the loss of valuable farmland in Idaho to sprawling suburbs.
Costs will be reduced, proponents of the amendment say, and liberal state policies can be enacted without opposition from conservative counties.
The Greater Idaho movement is not motivated by drugs, money, or politics, but rather by a desire to protect Idaho’s cultural heritage and ensure that all citizens are fairly represented in the state legislature.
Because “our state government has not heard us,” “has not understood our way of life,” or “has enacted a policy that doesn’t work for us here in Eastern Oregon,” McCaw expressed concern over the growing divide between urban and rural communities.
The new territory would add 21% to Idaho’s population, making “Greater Idaho” twice as populous as Montana at its current size.