This map shows how Idaho's borders would look under a proposal being promoted by Move Oregon's Border. Idaho legislators heard a presentation on Monday, April 12. (Greater Idaho map)
Two of the Idaho Legislature’s committees teamed up Monday for a joint hearing over a longshot proposal to redraw Oregon’s border so that about 20 rural Oregon counties would become part of Idaho.
There was no bill, budget or formal proposal to act on.
But the House Environment, Energy and Transportation Committee and the Senate Resources and Environment Committee provided an official legislative hearing for the Move Oregon’s Border advocacy group’s proposal.
Mike McCarter, the group’s president, and Mark Simmons, a former speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, said rural Oregonians want to live in Idaho because the state reflects their conservative, patriotic values more than Portland and northwest Oregon.
They stressed they just wanted to become part of Idaho, not secede from Oregon or form an entirely new state.
Several times throughout the hour-long hearing they evoked the Revolutionary War.
“There is a longtime cultural divide, as big as the Grand Canyon, between northwest Oregon and rural Oregon and it’s getting larger” McCarter said.
“Taxation without representation, unjust laws, overreaching government — does this sound familiar with America prior to the American Revolution, and where did that end up?” McCarter continued.
Simmons, the former Oregon House speaker, laid out the process for the proposal to become enacted and called it a long shot.
He said it would require:
*Authorization from the people of Idaho to authorize the Idaho Legislature and governor to negotiate an interstate compact between the states.
*An amendment to the Idaho Constitution.
*Both the governor of Idaho and governor of Oregon signing off on the interstate compact.
*Ratification by the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.
“We need your prayers, I guess,” Simmons said.
Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, raised several questions about the proposal and pointed out potential barriers.
*Oregon’s minimum wage is $11.50 and varies in different parts of the state. Idaho uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
*The two states have different tax rates.
*The two states offer different public employee retirement and pension programs.
*Recreational and medical marijuana are legal in Oregon and illegal in Idaho.
*The states have different criminal justice and legal systems.
*Idaho voters limited the number of state legislative districts here to 35, the current number of districts used today. Stennnett worried adding parts of Oregon to Idaho would create giant, unmanageable legislative districts.
“There is just a lot that isn’t being talked about that would need to be fleshed out for this to even be considered,” Stennett said.
As for the discrepancy in drug laws between the states, McCarter told legislators that a Burns, Oregon, man told him that he has to have marijuana for his epilepsy but would be willing to give it up if he could become part of Idaho.
“There is a give-and-take situation that is going to have to come about for everything to work out,” McCarter said.
Simmons and McCarter did not address Stennett’s concerns but admitted there are many details and technical challenges that exist.
They said their focus right now is putting ballot questions out in rural Oregon counties asking residents whether they want their elected officials to push to become part of Idaho.
In November, residents of four Oregon counties considered the issue. It passed in two counties and failed in two others. Voters in Union and Jefferson counties approved of the idea, but Wallowa and Douglas county voters rejected the idea, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Similar ballot questions will be on ballots in five more Oregon counties this year, Simmons and McCarter said.
Despite the challenges, few of Idaho’s Republican legislators seemed interested.
“As I’ve been saying, it’s an intriguing conversation,” Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said.
“For me, the resources and what Oregon has to offer is what’s intriguing.”
Adding Oregon counties to Idaho appears to be merely the first phase of the project. The Citizens for Greater Idaho and Move Oregon’s Border groups’ website includes maps that would move the northernmost parts of California to a new greater Idaho.
The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in Idaho. The Enterprise has permission to publish this story.