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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

WALeg Day 17: Splitsville for Washington? History says not likely

OLYMPIA – Eastern and Western Washington are so different they should be two separate states, says a new bill that would set up a way to split them apart.

If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s probably because legislators from east of the Cascades have been saying it – and trying to find a way to divvy up the state – for at least 100 years. Wednesday was even the anniversary of a proposal introduced in the 1915 Legislature to split up the state, as recounted that day in Jim Kershner’s This Day In History.

Plans vary; results so far do not. Washington remains one state.

The most recent plan comes from a group of Republican representatives who introduced a bill Wednesday calling for a 10-person legislative task force to figure out the best way to split the state, divide up the assets like highways and prisons, money for schools, health and welfare program. The task force would be appointed by the political caucuses of the two chambers plus the governor, have members from both sides of the state and have to report by Sept. 30.

“The Legislature finds that since statehood, the livestyles, culture and economies of Eastern and Western Washington have been very distinct,” the bill says in its first section. Urbanization and rapid growth on the west side “have progressively heightened this divergence” it says.

The bill echoes sentiments that have appeared in at least six bills or resolutions that have been introduced since 1985. Some of those wanted to ask the president and Congress to split the state, others would have set up some kind of panel to redraw boundaries.

A sponsor or co-sponsor of many of those previous proposals was the late Sen. Bob McCaslin, a Spokane Valley Republican. His son, newly elected Rep. Bob McCaslin, also a Valley Republican, is a co-sponsor of the latest proposal. His seatmate, Rep. Matt Shea, is the prime sponsor.

“It’s partly to honor my dad’s memory,” the younger McCaslin said Wednesday. The proposal is primarily a “messaging bill”, he said, with sponsors trying to make a pitch for equality in funding for state programs and infrastructure.

To do that they’ll need to at least get a committee hearing on the bill or a floor debate, something that has eluded many previous efforts.

But Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said annual accounting of the money coming into the state coffers and going out in services consistently show that eight or nine counties usually pay more in taxes than they get back in services, and most of them are in Western Washington. The other 30 or 31 get more in state services and programs than the state collects in taxes, and almost all are in Eastern Washington.

East Side legislators are not alone in looking for ways to split the state. Jacob Kukuk of Arlington is mounting an effort, mainly through social media, that could eventually produce a ballot initiative to split Washington and call the new state Madison.

It would be named after President James Madison, the prime author of the U.S. Constitution, he said. Supporters might be gathering signatures for an initiative in 2016.



Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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