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Idaho lawmakers are seriously considering absorbing Oregon’s conservative rural counties if they can secede from the blue state

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The Greater Idaho movement seeks to redraw state boundaries so rural Oregon can join Idaho.
Idaho’s House voted in favor of exploring the move after 11 Oregon counties did the same.
Moving the state boundary would require the approval of Oregon, Idaho, and the US Congress.

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The Greater Idaho movement — a conservative effort to have eastern Oregon secede from the blue state and join Idaho — got a major nod of support last week from lawmakers in the red state.

Members of Idaho’s House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that would open up talks between Idaho and Oregon about relocating the boundary line that separates the two western states. The development marks a step forward for the Greater Idaho movement, which says rural Oregon is more similar to Idaho politically, economically, and culturally than to the urban areas of their state. 

The bill, which passed on February 15, states “the Idaho Legislature stands ready to begin discussions with the Oregon Legislature regarding the potential to relocate the Oregon/Idaho state boundary, in accordance with the will of the citizens of eastern Oregon, and we invite the Oregon Legislature to begin talks on this topic with the Idaho Legislature.”

It’s unclear if the bill will pass the Idaho Senate, but the chamber has a similar political make up to that of the state’s House, with Republicans representing the vast majority of the members at about 80%. Matt McCaw, a spokeperson for the group behind the Greater Idaho movement, told Insider they were confident the bill would pass Idaho’s Senate in the coming weeks as well.

The group noted Idaho lawmakers cited several reasons for supporting the bill, including a recent analysis that found the state-line shift could benefit Idaho economically. The analysis was conducted by the Claremont Institute, a California-based right-wing think tank that was an early defender of Donald Trump. John Eastman, a lawyer and prominent figure at the organization, advised Trump on how to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Lawmakers also noted a desire to keep Oregon’s more liberal drug laws further away from the current population of Idaho.

Moving the state boundary line would require the approval of both the Oregon and Idaho legislatures as well as the US Congress. Despite the support of Idaho lawmakers, the idea may face greater hurdles in the Oregon legislature, where both chambers have a solid Democratic majority. Oregon state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, a Republican, has filed a similar legislative proposal to begin talks with Idaho, but it’s unlikely to make it out of the rules committee.

The Greater Idaho group, which argues changing the state lines would benefit both states, hopes to persuade Democratic lawmakers to consider it by emphasizing the 11 rural Oregon counties that have already voted in favor of exploring the move, as well as polling that suggests some support in Idaho and northwest Oregon as well.

McCaw also emphasized that the bills are not about moving the state line tomorrow, but rather opening up the conversation. 

“What they say is: ‘We hear the people of eastern Oregon. We see how this benefits both states. We’re inviting each state to begin talks about where it makes sense to put this border,'” he told Insider.

This Sept. 7, 2020 file photo shows the “Oregon for Trump 2020 Labor Day Cruise Rally” at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Ore.

Michael Arellano/Associated Press

Oregon voted decisively for President Joe Biden in 2020, driven largely by heavily populated counties near Portland, Eugene, and Bend. But the areas of eastern Oregon that have been proposed to join Idaho voted for Donald Trump, with the former president winning nearly 80% of the vote in some counties. Meanwhile, Trump also overwhelmingly won Idaho with nearly 64% of the vote.

Experts in secession movements previously told Insider the Greater Idaho movement was unlikely to succeed but far from impossible, and that there are historical precedents for moving state lines.

“I don’t think the map of the United States is going to look the same in 2050,” Richard Kreitner, author of the book “Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union,” said, adding that “most state lines are fairly arbitrary.”

McCaw said the Greater Idaho proposal would be a solution to the “longstanding problem” of the urban-rural divide.

“We have extreme partisanship. We have all these things that people in the US know are a problem, and people are looking for solutions,” he said. “We can get people matched up to a government that they want, that matches their values, and we can lower political tension and make it a win-win for everybody involved.”

That partisanship and political tension has frequently led to speculation about the possibility of conflict, and experts previously told Insider that if a civil war were to break out in the US, eastern Oregon would be one of the most likely locations it would happen, citing the organized secession movement and anti-government sentiment.

Proponents of Greater Idaho have said their plan is a way to avoid conflict, but it’s unclear the impact moving the border would actually have. And although a civil war may seem unlikely, Barbara F. Walter, a leading expert in civil wars and author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” has said the US is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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