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By Rodger Nichols
For The Sentinel 

Bill to create new state dies, but not the idea

 

Liberty website

NOW ENTERING LIBERTY: A bill to allow eastern Washington to secede from the state died in committee this year. But the idea hangs on.

The controversy surrounding the implementation of the second phase of the I-1639 gun control measure on the first of this month has more people turning their attention to a bill that didn't pass in the Washington legislature this year-but it may be gathering momentum for the next session.

House Bill 1509 was sponsored by 4th District Represenatives Matt Shea and Bob McCaslin, Jr. It sought to solidify the increasing urban/rural divide by splitting the State of Washington into two states, along the Cascade Range. West-side counties would inherit the historic Washington name, while the east side counties would form the new state of Liberty.

Section I of the bill spelled it out this way: "The western boundary of Liberty follows the crest of the Cascade mountains and the western borders of Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima, and Klickitat counties. The eastern, northern, and southern borders of Liberty are the existing state borders."

The bill died in committee.

Like all movements, this one has a website (libertystate.org) with a store where you can buy Liberty State swag: t-shirts, baseball caps, mugs and even Liberty State flags with the motto "Liberty, founded in truth."

The idea is not a new one. There have been calls for separation dating back as far as 1901. In 1984, the Spokesman-Review in Spokane published a 96-page insert on a proposed state of Columbia that would also include part of Idaho. The bill that failed this past session was the third introduced by Shea and McCaslin. In doing so, McCaslin was honoring a family tradition. His father, Bob McCaslin, Sr., introduced similar legislation as a long-time state senator.

What would it take for such a movement to succeed?

Surprisingly little.

Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution allows for the creation of a new state from an exiting state with the approval of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

In essence, it would take three votes. The people in the affected area would have to vote in favor of the division, the state legislature would have to approve, and Congress would have to pass an act creating the new state.

Unlike a constitutional amendment, which requires ratification of three-fourths of the existing states, a simple act of Congress would be sufficient.

If this unlikely event were to happen, what would the new State of Liberty look like?

It would take lion's share-59 percent-of the land away from the current Washington state but only 21 percent of the population. The new state would be still first in U.S. production of apples, concord grapes, red raspberries, pears, sweet cherries and hops, second in potatoes, wine, onions, edible peas, apricots and lentils, third in hay, and fourth in wheat. Energy independence would not be a problem as the hydropower from the Columbia and Washington's lone nuclear reactor provide power to 11 other states.

At 41,848 square miles, the new state of Liberty would be larger than Tennessee, Ohio and 15 other states.

It would also gain political clout, with its own pair of U.S. senators. Currently, two of the Congressional districts in Washington, the Fourth and the Fifth, lie completely within the borders of Liberty, while the Eighth and the Third straddle the division. Depending on the results of the 2020 census, Liberty would either end up with two or three members in the House.

But the question of splitting the state has always boiled down to whether the eastern half could prosper without the financial support of Seattle.

Liberty does a lot of exporting, and the new state would be landlocked without easy access to the shipping docks of Seattle, though it would have Columbia River ports that link to Portland and the Pacific.

A 2014 report by the Office of Fiscal Management cited in the Spokane Spokesman-Review in 2017 showed King County produces 42 percent of the state's tax revenues-but receives less than 26 percent back in the form of state benefits, for a return of 62 cents on the dollar. By comparison, the 20 counties of eastern Washington receive $1.33 back for every dollar paid in taxes. That amounted to a $733.2 million dollars a year subsidy from Western Washington.

Reaction fell on predictable partisan lines. Liberals who approve of the western Washington agendas pointed out to conservatives that to maintain the same level of state services, taxes in Liberty would have to go up 33 percent. Conservatives, who disapprove of many uses tax revenue is currently funding, say they would rather have a much leaner government that stays within its budget.

What's next?

The idea isn't going away. Whether it's in a form similar to HB 1509 or a more expansive concept proposed by 12th District State Rep. Cary Condotta to join Eastern Washington to the whole state of Idaho for a much larger Liberty, frustration with the current situation is likely to increase rather than decrease.

The Liberty State website notes a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 13 at Old Pizza Hut Building, 223 N. 1st Street in Yakima.

Almost as soon as each state entered the Union, there were people unhappy with the way the borders were drawn. And as states became settled, various regions became unhappy with state governments and proposed breaking away. Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 and was admitted to the union as a state three years later. After that, West Virginia broke from Virginia during the Civil War. No break-away attempt has succeeded since then.

There have been separate proposals to redraw the maps of 35 states by various disgruntled groups.

Below are some of the most interesting proposals over the years.

JEFFERSON. Probably the best-known example is the State of Jefferson to be created from portions of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

In 1852, at the first California state legislature, a bill was introduced to divide the state in three parts, splitting off a State of Colorado in Southern California, and a "state of Shasta" in northern California. (The state we now know as Colorado entered the Union in 1876.)

In 1854, the same year Wasco County was created, a separate movement began in southern Oregon. It went far enough that a proposal to create such a state was presented to Congress and remained open until Oregon was granted statehood in 1859.

The modern movement stems from 1941, when the mayor of Port Orford, Gilbert Gable, proposed joining Oregon's Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath counties with Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc counties in California to form a new state.

Gable was upset because state roads along the Oregon-California border at the time were oiled dirt road which became impassable in rain or snow, and handicapped Economic Development.

In November 1941, county representatives met at Yreka, selecting that town as a provisional captial and the name Jefferson for their state, commemorating Thomas Jefferson.

Later that month, a group of young men with hunting rifles stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the state of Jefferson was in "patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon" and would continue to "secede every Thursday until further notice."

Before the movement fizzled, John C. Childs of Yreka was inaugurated as the governor of the State of Jefferson.

But the attack on Pearl Harbor in December turned attention to the war effort, and the matter was dropped.

And yet the idea never really went away. It still has a presence in the area. Jefferson Public Radio, based at Southern Oregon University, owns more than 20 radio stations covering the various valleys in the largely mountainous region.

Local stores in the area sell Jefferson State souvenirs, including the mythical state flag, which features two Xs, which are known as the Double Cross, signifying the region's sense of abandonment from the state governments in Salem and Sacramento.

FRANKLIN. The earliest example, and one that came close to succeeding, was a proposed split of what was then part of North Carolina into the State of Franklin.

After the Revolutionary War, the federal government was heavily in debt.

In April 1784, the North Carolina legislature voted "to give Congress the 29,000,000 acres lying between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi river" to help reduce the debt.

Settlers in the area feared Congress might sell that land to a foreign power such as France or Spain to raise needed cash.

On Aug. 23, 1784, delegates from five North Carolina counties convened in Jonesborough and declared their independence.

And they didn't stop there.

On May 16, 1785, they submitted a petition for statehood to the United States Congress.

Seven states voted to admit the tiny state under the proposed name Frankland.

That was a majority of the states, but less that the two-thirds majority required to admit a territory to statehood under the Articles of Confederation.

Note: No such ratification by other states is required to create a new state under the Constitution today.

In order to win additional votes, leaders changed the name to "Franklin" after Benjamin Franklin, but it was not enough.

That didn't stop proponents. They floated a constitution for the state that disallowed lawyers, doctors and preachers from election to the legislature. It failed, but one modeled on North Carolina's was adopted.

The State of Franklin, though lacking official federal status, operated for four years, electing a governer, John Sevier, a legislature and establishing a court system.

Greeneville was picked as the capital.

The quasi-state incorporated and annexed five new counties.

Eventually, North Carolina offered to waive all back taxes if Franklin would rejoin the fold. When that was rejected, North Carolina moved in troops and established its own government in the region. The two rival administrations competed side by side for several months.

Governor Sevier sought a loan from the Spanish government and proposed bringing the state under Spanish rule.

That proposal went nowhere, and in conjuction with a series of attacks in March 1788 by the Cherokee, Chickamauga and Chickasaw nations led Franklinites to abandon their state dreams and seek the protection of the North Carolina militia.

LINCOLN 1. When Wyoming Territory was formed in 1868, it was originally called Lincoln Territory.

That caused much debate in Congress because no state or territory had been named directly for a particular person. (Though Virginia was indirectly named after Queen Elizabeth I, known as "the virgin queen.")

Ultimately, Nevada Senator James W. Nye proposed the name Wyoming, a simple English transliteration of the Lenape Indian tribe's word for "large plains."

LINCOLN 2. In 1869 there was a proposal to create a state of Lincoln from the area south and west of the Colorado River in Texas. Unlike many other Texas division proposals of the Reconstruction period, this one was presented to Congress, but, like the others, it failed.

LINCOLN 3. Eastern Washington, of course, also had its gripes with the state's central government.

When Idaho moved its capital from Lewiston to Boise in 1864, panhandle residents agitated for a state of their own.

In 1901, they made another proposal, to combine the Idaho Panhandle with Eastern Washington to create the state of Lincoln. Alternative names were "Columbia," and "Eastern (or East) Washington."

And the proposals continue to surface.

LINCOLN 4. Another State of Lincoln has been proposed as Eastern Oregon plus Eastern Washington.

There are lots of similariies in climate, crops, culture and frustration with government west of the Cascades that make this a more natural combination than that of Lincoln 3 above.

At least one bill has been introduced in the Washington legislature in support of the idea.

KOOTENAI. Beyond that 1901 attempt, northern Idaho residents have not pushed for connection with Eastern Washington.

Instead, in terms of its politics sociology and geography, it is much more similar to Western Montana.

A suggestion has been made for a "State of Kootenai," which would unite the six northernmost counties of Idaho, and the six westernmost counties of Montana.

These are just a few of the proposals floated over the years.

A Wikipedia article on the subject can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki. It has a list of U.S. state secession proposals.

It includes this gem: "In the 1950s, Letcher County, Kentucky, threatened to secede from the state, demanding better roads in the area. The threats subsided when Governor A.B. Chandler indicated that he did not care."

 

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