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Talk of new state a tradition

Jim Camden The Spokesman-Review

Somewhere in the legislative rules it must be written, if it’s February, it’s time to talk secession.

That seems to be the only reason for a state Senate committee holding a hearing last week on the recurring proposition that Eastern Washington is so under-represented, under-served and under-appreciated that we should divide the state at the Cascades and form a new state.

It’s an idea that Republican Sens. Bob McCaslin of the Spokane Valley and Bob Morton of Orient regularly toss out, like a rubber duckie into the kiddie pool of the legislative session. The surprise is not that the East Side Bobs toss it, but that so many other kids are willing to play with this toy, what with all the others they might want to turn their attention on, with limited time in the pool.

They usually come up with a new wrinkle. This year, it was asking the president and Congress to declare the folks of Eastern Washington free at last of that evil West Side. Wonder if newly minted Congresswoman Cathy McMorris wants to make that a priority.

Like previous sessions, they got their hearing, some spleens were vented, and the bill was assigned to oblivion.

What these hearings are good for

Silly as this idea might be, it can provoke interesting discussions about sewing a 51st star on Old Glory, and how the field would be rearranged to accommodate that. (Spin Control votes for three rows of nine stars and three rows of eight.)

They can also generate a fun discussion of whether the new state should be called Cascadia or Columbia or whatever. Last time this happened to Virginia, folks just went to the default name of West Virginia. But that seems a bit insulting to the folks seceding and the folks seceded from. Why go through all this trouble just to become East Washington?

Maybe the new state could stick with a presidential theme. Lincoln is a more favored president than Washington, according to a recent poll, and he was a good Republican. Maybe this year, someone will suggest calling it Reagan, and get some extra exposure on conservative talk radio. Someone else could suggest Roosevelt or Clinton to get time on liberal talk radio, but why bother?

Weighing the true costs

This year, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, could be accused of not playing well with the rubber duckie. When folks suggested Eastern Washington should go its separate way, he essentially said “See you around. Don’t let the door hit you as you leave.”

His rather churlish reasoning was Eastern Washington gets a good deal on certain things, like receiving more money for roads than folks in most East Side counties pay in. And that more of the lower income, higher unemployment counties would be in the new state while more higher income, lower unemployment counties would stay in the old one.

OK, so we can call it West Mississippi.

But no one ever brings up some of the real costs, like forcing everyone to buy new stationery for the new addresses with a new state abbreviation. And we’d have to pick a new capital, build a new Capitol, wrangle over a state flag, state seal, state song, state flower, state motto, state vegetable and state fossil, and rename the state universities.

Maiden voyage

No one is surprised when Morton and McCaslin talk up their idea. But it did raise a few eyebrows at the county courthouse that Mark Richard used his first trip to the Legislature as a Spokane County commissioner to support secession.

The county has several things ahead of a new state on its “Please give us” list to the Legislature. To be precise, the county has everything ahead of forming a new state, which is not on the list.

Richard and some other supporters seem to think a new state would be good for business. Sure, it could get rid of such inconvenient things as growth management, planning, zoning, sewers, inflation-indexed minimum wage and child labor laws. (OK, we made the last one up.)

But seceding from the rest of Washington is also not on the legislative priority list for the regional Chamber of Commerce. Those small thinkers are apparently content to waste their time on such mundane things as more money for hospitals, more money for roads, more money for colleges and rural development.

Well, if you can’t get a new state, maybe those would be a decent backup.

Contributing factor

Maybe East Side egos are more bruised than normal because of the governor’s race, in which Christine Gregoire only carried King County and a few of its watery satellites, thus cheating good voters in the rest of the state out of the chief executive they wanted.

East Side sensitivities are so acute that when the Election Reform Task Force told the audience at last Tuesday’s Spokane hearing they could only testify for two minutes, one of the first speakers harrumphed that people in Vancouver got three minutes. Just another example of how Eastern Washington gets shorted, he said.

Vancouver folks only got two minutes, honest, said panelist Larry Sheahan.

Even though Sheahan is a former Republican legislator from southeast Washington’s 9th District, some in the audience clearly doubted him. (The official records from the task force support Sheahan, but they are in Olympia and are thus suspect.)

Grouse if you must, secessionists, but remember that Dino Rossi couldn’t have won the election in either state.

He’d have lost big if only the West Side was voting; he couldn’t run in the new state, because he lives in King County.

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