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Redrawing Idaho’s Borders Divides Small Oregon County

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An Idaho group is making a strong push to relocate the state’s border with Oregon, that if successful could lead to some 400,000 Oregonians becoming taxpayers in their neighboring state.

A string of successful “Greater Idaho” ballot measures have been approved by voters for about the past three years, affecting approximately 9 percent of Oregon’s population but 63 percent of its landmass. The caveat is that the measures, which would make current Oregonians taxpayers in Idaho, do not instantly redraw borders and can only go into effect by agreements by both state legislatures in addition to congressional approval—what may be a tall task considering the different political makeups of each state.

Greater Idaho has been putting out ballot measures since 2020 and touts strong polling for relocating boundary lines, saying it “promotes the idea of creating a greater (bigger & stronger) Idaho so that conservative counties can become a part of a red state.” It has also referred to the border line established 163 years ago as “outdated,” citing a “cultural divide.”

Other instances of border lines being relocated include the Oregon-Washington line in 1958. Matt McCaw, spokesperson for the group, told Newsweek via phone that area voters have been receptive to solving the urban-rural divide.

“Across eastern Oregon, our elections aren’t nearly that close,” McCaw said. “We’re averaging about 60 percent [voter approval] in the 12 counties that we’ve won elections. Voters love this idea and say this makes sense.

“Eastern Oregon is far more similar to Idaho in almost every way than it is to western Oregon. It doesn’t make any sense to be getting the state-level government from the state of Oregon, who feels very differently on almost every issue. It would make far more sense to get that government from Idaho.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks during a press conference following a luncheon with Senate Democrats in the U.S. Capitol Building May 2, 2023 in Washington, DC. Wyden has expressed strong opposition to a string of ballot measures attempting to turn some 400,000 Oregon residents into Idahoans.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty
Issues that helped spur this recent wave of ballot action have included education and pandemic guidelines involving vaccine mandates and church openings, McCaw said, which further exposed a divide between people along the border.

They include differences based on geography, climate change, economies, values, culture and voting preferences among a group of people “smashed together” due to an imaginary line, he added

“Oregon does not own eastern Oregon…That’s where a line was placed 164 years ago, an imaginary line,” he said. “That has been a rocky relationship for a very long time.”

The most recent ballot measure passed on May 16 in Wallowa County, receiving 1,752 ‘yes’ votes and 1,744 ‘no’ votes. Wallowa County Clerk Sandy Lathrop told Newsweek via email today that the eight-vote difference does not require an automatic recount at this time. It represents about 2 percent of the eastern Oregon population.

“This is just a preliminary total,” Lathrop said. “It is possible that result will change after all challenge ballots are cured. We still have six challenge ballots. All voters have been sent letters; if a phone number was available they were called as well.”

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, told Newsweek via email that Greater Idaho’s efforts are a “dubious siren song” that is unrealistic and contains “multiple fatal flaws beyond its fundamental implausibility,” including questions about Oregon landowners’ water rights in addition to some Oregonians paying a sales tax in Idaho for the first time in their lives.

He also mentioned that Oregon’s average wages are higher than its neighbor’s.

“I’ve held more than 1,050 town halls in Oregon—at least one open-to-all town hall each year in each of our state’s 36 counties where any Oregonian can ask me any question,” Wyden said. “I’ve gotten this Idaho question at town halls this year, reflecting frustrations in rural Oregon. But I find most Oregonians are more interested in working together on solutions in and for Oregon that bridge differences rather than chasing incredibly unlikely and unhelpful boundary schemes.

“In our state, as examples, those solutions have meant supporting local schools and roads in rural communities with federal investments via my Secure Rural Schools law that’s brought nearly $4 billion to Oregon, and increased resources to fight wildfires.”

Democratic Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, during a recent town hall at an Oregon high school, rejected the notion of relocating boundary lines due to potential ideological differences.

“There are a whole set of barriers that would make the process very difficult,” Merkley said, according to Oregon-based publication The Observer. “I would not want to see the state carved up. I love every part of it.”

Idaho Representative Judy Boyle, a Republican, told Fox News Digital in March that she is a lifelong resident along the state borderline and has many “frustrated” friends as a result of Oregon’s liberal reputation. She said advantages include the gaining of citizens “with likeminded conservative values” and the gaining of another congressional seat.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat, rebuked Boyle’s statements by telling Fox News Digital that a “Greater Idaho” is not a proper remedy for political differences.

“Our democratic republic depends on level heads coming together to find solutions to the issues that impact our citizens,” she said. “Dividing state borders to create enclaves of politically like-minded people is the opposite of a healthy America.”

Newsweek reached out via email to Merkley.

Update 05/31/23, 7:03 p.m. ET: This story was updated to correct Wyden’s state.

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