Supporters of Greater Idaho want freedom from the “tyranny” of Oregon’s government.
(CN) — In a mostly maskless meeting Monday, the Idaho Legislature considered expanding its territory to absorb 22 Oregon counties under a plan proponents say is necessary because voters in Portland determine the policies that run the state.
Mike McCarter, the Oregonian behind Move Oregon’s Border and Citizens for Greater Idaho, laid out the idea at a joint meeting of Idaho’s House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee and the Senate Resources & Environment Committee. In addition to 22 of Oregon’s 36 counties, Greater Idaho would also include parts of California and Washington state. McCarter said the motivation behind the plan is freedom from rules meted out by “Willamette Valley Democrats.”
“The people want to be independent of an overreaching state government and given the opportunity to raise their families the way they want,” McCarter said. “The opportunity to provide an income off their land. To start or operate profitable businesses. Enjoy life without being lorded over.”
Frustration with environmental regulations and restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 were recurring themes in McCarter’s presentation.
“We want a place where natural resources are harvested, restored and utilized,” McCarter said. “A place where water supplies — the core of civilization — are controlled and used for energy, agriculture, business, flood protection and recreation. If northwest Oregon wants special laws or social experiments and taxes to support these issues, let them have it. But let rural Oregon go.”
Former Oregon House speaker Mark Simmons also presented at the informational session Monday, explaining that one of his proudest moments was helping to pass 1999 legislation that reinstated mandatory time in public school once per week for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and required students who opt out to instead “maintain a respectful silence” during the recitation.
“I was happy to help get that put back on,” Simmons said.
Simmons now lives in Union County, one of the two Oregon counties where a ballot measure supporting the establishment of Greater Idaho has already passed.
“Why did this pass in my home county?” Simmons asked. “It gives people hope. We’ve got a government for the state of Oregon that seems not to include us in rural Oregon. We’ve got a proposal in the Legislature to outlaw diesel fuel, proposals from our governor to teach critical race theory in schools and certainly all the bureaucracy. Overbearing regulations, a different view of the future that doesn’t have the kind of values and beliefs that we have.”
Five more rural Oregon counties will vote on the idea in May. The ballot measures are nonbinding, and leaders say the vote merely voices support for a process they hope will eventually culminate in approval from Oregon and Idaho legislatures, by voters in both states, and eventually by Congress.
“We need your prayers I guess,” Simmons told lawmakers.
The pair got a warm reception from committee chairs Rep. Barbara Ehardt and Sen. Steve Vick. But some members had questions.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett asked how Greater Idaho would meld wildly incongruent policies in Idaho and Oregon, including a nearly $4 difference in the minimum wage, the blending of criminal justice systems and differing tax bases where the Oregon counties would presumably forego revenue from cannabis to comply with Idaho laws that designate possession of even small amounts of marijuana as a crime.
“There’s just a lot that isn’t being talked about that would need to be fleshed out for this to even be considered,” Stennett said.
Rep. Julie Yamamoto, a Republican, wanted to know how the new state would absorb Oregon’s prisons.
“How many of them would be in Greater Idaho and what is the cost of running them?” Yamamoto asked.
“That’s one of those details again that I don’t have the answer for,” McCarter said.
Chairman Vick asked how the transfer of state colleges and universities would be handled.
“And I’m guessing — are those the details that are in the compact that is approved?” Vick asked.
McCarter answered that nothing has yet been approved and the specifics are largely unknown.
“There is no compact right now. But the details are humongous. Prisons, forest lands, roads and equipment, state vehicles, state buildings — if my constituents said ‘you do this,’ I would get the biggest greaseboard in the world and just start writing those down.”
Nearly two dozen lawmakers, most without face coverings despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, attended the informational session. Afterward, they milled about chatting, elbow to elbow.
Simmons steered the conversation away from specifics and back toward the overarching vision.
“Values of faith, family, independence — that’s what we’re about,” Simmons said. “We don’t need the state breathing down our necks all the time, micromanaging our lives and trying to push us into a foreign way of living.”