Voters approved border blueprint but what’s next remains to be seen

This map shows how Idaho’s borders would look in the long term under a proposal promoted by Move Oregon’s Border. Local voters passed a ballot measure recently that calls for the Malheur County Court to meet and discuss the plan three times a year. (Greater Idaho map)

VALE – The recent passage of a county ballot measure won’t result in Malheur County shifting into Idaho anytime soon.

The measure does require the Malheur County Court – the county commissioners – to discuss three times a year how to best represent the county if the idea to move Idaho’s border to cover Malheur County ever became more than just an interesting idea. The measure stipulates county commissioners must meet in January, May and September for border discussions. 

The key question now is: What’s next?

Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said there are “still just a tremendous amount of unknowns” regarding how the meetings will be structured and what will be discussed.

“I have not seen an agenda and don’t know what the layout will be. With meetings, you have an agenda and some type of layout from A to Z. I am going to assume that is what we will get,” said Joyce.

Joyce said he believed “the petitioners are the ones who have the agenda.”

The next steps, though, rest entirely with the county, said Mike McCarter, a retired La Pine resident who is the president of Move Oregon’s Border, the organization that crafted and then pushed to get the border move proposal on the local ballot.

The measure passed in Malheur County with a 54% approval rate.

Move Oregon’s Border consists of residents from across eastern, central and southern Oregon. The group believes Idaho politics and policies better represent rural Oregon values.

 “After the vote took place, Move Oregon’s Border is just sitting on the sidelines. Now it is up to the commissioners and the people,” said McCarter.

McCarter said his advice to the court is to form a committee to develop and review key questions that would come up if the Idaho border was moved to include Malheur County. That committee then could deliver its recommendations to the county court.

He said issues such as funding for schools, roads and public employees will be crucial if, and when, a border move was seriously reviewed by Idaho and Oregon lawmakers.

“I want to tell commissioners now is the time to start looking into it and getting answers. If there is something particular about your county you want involved in the negotiations it is better to have that up front,” said McCarter. In Malheur County’s case, said McCarter, the status of marijuana would be an important subject if the Idaho border moved. Marijuana sales are legal in Oregon but not in Idaho.

In recent years, Ontario has developed into a marijuana retail hub.

“The marijuana issue is big. Big dollar volume. Big income, so that is going to be a question. A logical question is can we grandfather and mandate something if Malheur County becomes part of Idaho?” said McCarter.

McCarter said eastern Oregon counties have “particular things” that will need to be ironed out for a border move to be successful.

“Wallowa County, one of their big issues is ranch land. Idaho doesn’t have the same criteria or regulations as Oregon. Well, let’s negotiate that out. Let’s at least talk about it and get the discussion going,” said McCarter.

McCarter said the intent of Move Oregon’s Border was never to leave the union.

“It is a message that goes to the state legislature. If you don’t want to work with us and don’t want to be concerned about our issues, then let us go,” said McCarter.

McCarter said the formation of a committee to review the matter will make the task easier for local commissioners.

“My suggestion is a simple way to take care of it and it doesn’t create any more work for the commissioners. I am not making the suggestion just to make it easier for them. I believe it is a logical step,” said McCarter.

Now, said McCarter, the goal is to see Idaho and Oregon lawmakers “sit down and ask about it.”

“If the Oregon Legislature says no, then OK. On the other hand, if enough of the counties are starting to speak up, I would assume the leadership in Oregon would see that there is a problem in rural Oregon. So how do we answer that?” said McCarter.

A state boundary change will require approval from the Idaho and Oregon Legislatures and the Congress.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Group strives to make plan to shift Malheur County to Idaho a reality

May election will give local voters first opportunity to weigh in on plan to move the Oregon-Idaho border


Take one action today to help the Enterprise grow and do more for the community through accurate, fair reporting.

SUBSCRIBE: A monthly digital subscription is $5 a month.

GIFT: Give someone you know a subscription.

ONE-TIME PAYMENT: Contribute, knowing your support goes towards more local journalism you can trust.