Who wants to redraw the borders of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California?
The urban-rural political divide defines our politics today, and in the Pacific Northwest, some believe state borders should be redrawn to better reflect it.
âInstead of creating a new state, we are simply asking to realign the border, because the borders are arbitrary, they are not set in stone, they can be changed,â said Mike McCarter, president of Citizens for Greater Idaho, which is pushing some rural counties in eastern Oregon to join Idaho.
McCarter’s proposal would transfer all or part of 22 rural counties from Oregon to Idaho to form a conservative mega-state in the west, along with a more ambitious plan that would include all or part of eight counties in California and five counties in Washington. Expanded Idaho would be larger than all states except Alaska and Texas, a bright red counterweight to progressive and coastal Oregon, Washington, and California.
âPeople hear about it,â McCarter said. âPeople say we want to have a chance to vote. We want to see change in rural Oregon.
Residents of seven counties in rural eastern Oregon have voted to show their support for membership in Idaho since last November. The votes do nothing, however, as changing state borders requires approval from states and the U.S. Congress, but they do reflect popular support among voters for the idea.
An urban comeback
As some of the governors recall the backlash, the border movement is a product of the pandemic. McCarter criticizes the mask warrants and public health measures of Democratic Oregon Governor Kate Brown, and an Idaho state lawmaker cited public unrest in Portland last year as the reason residents from rural Oregon would like to join his state.
âIn our constitutional republic, you can’t just create a CHOP zone,â Idaho Representative Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls said, referring to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Zone created last summer.
“If you cannot seek redress from your government that is in your state because it adheres to a lawless form of government, then I think you have every right to seek redress from the next nearest government,” she declared. “In that case, it would be the state of Idaho.”
The proposal would free Oregon’s rural conservatives from the influence of Willamette Valley, Oregon’s liberal coastal population center, and reinforce Idaho’s already dominant conservative politics at a time when some fear the A fast-growing state did not attract liberals from outside the state to Boise. .
âThe way I see it is that we would definitely gain a lot more like-minded people,â Ehardt said.
Today’s urban-rural divide has been going on for decades, the result of New Deal infrastructure projects, interstate highways and government programs that have attracted jobs to metropolitan areas in the west and south. south of the mountains, according to Guy McKee, associate professor of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
There has been a sorting by economy and college education in metropolitan areas, he said, which has been followed by economic opportunities and a perceived dominance of culture that breeds resentment.
In other words, cities have made a comeback, and it has had political and cultural implications.
âIf you go back 20 years and look at some of the underlying voting patterns, you tend to see large parts of the country voting the same,â he said, but today some states attend more competitive elections, like Georgia. “It’s really because metro areas are now competitive in a way that they just weren’t 20 years ago.”
Political friction between city and country is playing out nationwide, in states like Texas, Nevada and Virginia. In Illinois in 2019, some Republican lawmakers sponsored a resolution to make Chicago the 51st state as a statement of frustration at the political influence of the Democratic city.
What could be lost
Ehardt, the Idaho lawmaker, envisions a redesigned Idaho setting off a wave of new state border proposals that make America a union of vast rural superstates that vote Republican, densely populated city-states that vote Democrat, and several states of California, which has been proposed in the past. While the bar for actually changing state borders is high, she believes it can happen.
âI absolutely believe it’s not just going to happen in Oregon, but I think you’re going to see it happening in the rest of the United States, actually very soon,â she said. “I’ve heard from other states, a lot of eyes are on this movement.”
But drawing our borders on the basis of partisanship won’t solve their problems, McKee said.
“I think it goes even more than it will not solve our problems,” he said. “I think it’s actually a rejection of some fundamental democratic principles.”
McKee is concerned that the impetus to redraw state borders to suit politics suggests that “we have lost some of the ability to disagree.”
“It’s really dangerous, I think, for democratic life,” he said.
He hopes this will make people wonder why their fellow citizens are upset and how we can make connections to reduce polarization.
“These kinds of moves, I don’t think they’re a serious threat to be successful anytime soon,” he said. Yet “they should really concern all Americans.”