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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gun rights, 51st state are linked, Shea tells rally

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, talks about the connection between gun rights and the proposed state of Liberty in Eastern Washington, at a rally Friday at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Striding back and forth across the marbled Rotunda with the flag of the proposed state of Liberty behind him, Rep. Matt Shea drew a connection between supporting gun rights and splitting Washington at the crest of the Cascade Mountains.

Despite all the talk he’s heard about “One Washington” around the Capitol, Eastern Washington and liberal downtown Seattle are very different, the Spokane Valley Republican said. Residents of the latter might support more government regulations, higher taxes and gun control; residents of the former don’t, he said.

About 50 people gathered in chairs and on the steps around him cheered and clapped.

“We’re not going to live in a state that takes away our firearms,” he said, to more cheers. “The only solution left is a 51st state.”

To those in Western Washington who point out that Eastern Washington gets more back in taxes than it pays into the state coffers, Shea said future 51st staters should just reply, “We don’t want to be a burden any longer. Let us go.”

As in recent years, Shea has introduced a resolution in the House to ask Congress to split Washington and create the new state of Liberty out of the eastern part. It’s a concept that Shea said is growing in popularity in eastern counties, and he’s getting flooded with emails.

The would-be state already has a prototype flag, an osprey with outstretched wings on a blue background and “Liberty, Founded in Truth” on a banner below the bird.

You can buy one on the Liberty state website, along with hats and buttons and other items, said Robert Brown, who was holding the flag over the third floor balcony above the Rotunda for part of Friday’s joint rally for the Second Amendment and the 51st state.

They go for $25. The website says it has sold out its supply of 300, but has another 100 on order.

Brown, a military retiree who lives about 4 miles from the Canadian border in Ferry County, said he drove nine hours on Thursday, much of it through snow, to come to the rally. Even before Shea spoke, Brown insisted the concepts of gun rights and a new state are connected. It took deputies 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to his home when his workshop was broken into, he said, and firearms are necessary for self-defense in such sparsely populated areas that would make up much of the state of Liberty.

At an impromptu news conference after the rally, Shea said the next step in the long legal process to split the state faces a hurdle with a ticking clock. The state House of Representatives and state Senate would have to approve his resolution to Congress, then both houses of Congress would have to approve the split. The next step in the legislative process would be for a public hearing on Shea’s resolution in the House State Government Committee.

He’s requested a hearing, but with less than two weeks to consider such legislation, that hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet.

If this session passes without a vote on the resolution, Shea hopes some county commissioners interested in the concept would put an advisory vote on the November ballot as a way of showing support.

He also believes talk of statehood for Puerto Rico could prompt a compromise in Congress to create the state of Liberty to balance things out. So if that happens, would Liberty be the 52nd state, he was asked.

“No, we’d always be the 51st state,” he said.