Talk of secession is in the air — always.
The Cascadia movement has been around for years in the Pacific Northwest, inspired in part by Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 utopian novel “Ecotopia,” while others in the region call for a conservative, rural-centric state of Jefferson.
Mike McCarter doesn’t think anything will come of these efforts.
“I’m a proponent of the state of Jefferson,” the retired La Pine nurseryman says. “But I don’t see it happening.”
Which doesn’t mean he’s willing to accept the status quo. Secession is a sticky constitutional question, but simply moving a state’s borders is doable.
“That’s been done recently,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive, pointing to a 1961 land transfer that moved about 20 acres from Minnesota to North Dakota after a federal project to straighten the Red River cut off the Minnesota parcels from the rest of the state.
McCarter is one of the leaders of Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho. The goal, as the group’s name suggests, is to flip Oregon’s eastern counties into Idaho.
And, while success remains extremely unlikely, Move Oregon’s Border is gaining a little traction. In the past month, proposals to let voters weigh in on the issue have earned initial approval from Josephine and Douglas counties, setting the stage for a signature-gathering push to get them on the ballot in November.
“We’re picking up momentum,” McCarter says. “It takes a lot of oomph to get something like this started. I call it a peaceful revolution.”
The group wants to have initiatives on the ballot of every eastern Oregon county this fall.
“Our approach is to go county by county rather than a state initiative,” McCarter adds. “We want people [in the counties that would move to Idaho] to chime in and say, ‘Yes, we want this.’ It takes more work to go county by county, but it informs the public more.”
Of course, it’s not as easy as that. Even if Oregon’s eastern counties do vote to join Idaho, approval would then be needed from the Oregon and Idaho legislatures — and the U.S. Congress.
Valerie Gottschalk, a Josephine County resident and another Move Oregon’s Border leader, said in an email last week that she expected the effort “to grow rapidly, having seen the response to the ‘Recall Kate’ petition circulated last year” — a reference to a failed attempt to launch a recall election of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
“People here would prefer Idaho’s conservative governance to the progressive/liberal current Oregon governance,” Gottschalk said. “Every time I look at the Facebook group Greater Idaho, the group has gotten bigger.”
Sure enough, the movement’s Facebook page consistently showcases conservative political views. Last week someone posted an article on the page from an obscure satirical-news site with the headline “Breaking: Health Officials Quarantine Portland To Prevent Spread of Communism.”
But McCarter, for one, doesn’t like to position the issue as Republican vs. Democrat.
“It’s a lifestyle/values judgment between urban and rural more than anything else,” he insists. He says many residents of rural Oregon “aren’t as conservative as me” but still see the benefits of being part of a more rural-minded state like Idaho.
He and Gottschalk acknowledge there are a lot of questions eastern-Oregon voters would need to chew on, such as schools funding (Oregon spends more per student than Idaho) and the advantages/drawbacks of a sales tax (Idaho has one, Oregon doesn’t) and an estate tax (Oregon has one, Idaho doesn’t).
He admits the Oregon counties would have to accept that they’d likely receive fewer services from the state if they jumped to Idaho. But this also could be one of the reasons Oregon might be willing to let them go.
“Most of the counties east of the Cascades are upside down,” he says. “They have to be supplemented by the state. So, potentially, Salem might be willing to do it.”
Needless to say, those counties’ services needs probably wouldn’t make a border switch more attractive to Boise.
And that’s one reason the target map for Move Oregon’s Border swings west in the southern part of Oregon. (The group is also targeting parts of northern California.)
“Idaho wouldn’t be land-locked anymore,” McCarter points out. “It would have a shipping port in Coos Bay. That’d be huge.”
McCarter recognizes that the movement is a long shot, but he nevertheless believes the dominoes could fall quickly after the counties’ voters are on record with their wishes. After all, the redrawn border wouldn’t create two new U.S. senators, as a new state would, nor is it an attempt to leave the U.S. And it would make Oregon bluer and Idaho redder, which would probably please those legislatures’ majorities.
“How often do you have the opportunity to be part of a movement to make things better for people?” McCarter says. “We are dealing with our liberty.”