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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Greater Idaho is a wonderful name for a bad idea

Lest you think we’re the only region with a tiny but incurable case of the crackpot secessionist bug, cast your eyes toward rural Oregon.

There, the same set of delusions that animates the Liberty State movement in Eastern Washington has captured the attention of a few small-town ultraconservatives who are proposing something similarly impractical: merging rural Oregon with neighboring Idaho and northern California, to form a Trump-supporting homeland that excises all those nettlesome urban areas.

They’re calling it Greater Idaho. As a native of the Gem State, I love this name. I’d rush to get the T-shirt. Sadly, though, the name is the only good thing about it.

A new Greater Idaho is as realistic as Liberty State, the Matt Shea project to create a 51st state out of Eastern Washington. In other words, not close to realistic – a two-guys-having-five-beers idea that’ll never survive the daylight.

One wonders what kind of a country these secessionists truly envision, and whether at the end of this dream – once all the additional states have been formed to omit liberals, elevate gun rights to a religion, and return to the gold standard – only rural conservative votes would be counted at all.

You know. Like it says in the Constitution.

The proposed state of Greater Idaho would gobble up southern and eastern Oregon, as well as swooping south to take in parts of northern California, leaving the commies of Eugene and Portland in a much diminished state of Oregon. It’s dumb and impossible, but like Liberty State it will serve its chief purpose: providing a bucket into which rural conservatives can hurl grievances about being outvoted.

“Rural counties have become increasingly outraged by laws coming out of the Oregon Legislature that threaten our livelihoods, our industries, our wallet, our gun rights, and our values,” Mike McCarter, one of the organizers, said in a news release last week. “We tried voting those legislators out but rural Oregon is outnumbered and our voices are now ignored. This is our last resort.”

It’s always midnight on the eve of disaster in secessionist politics.

But at least there’ll be merch.

“Time to get T-shirts going?” asked one person posting on the Greater Idaho Facebook page on Monday – a page with 700-plus “likes.”

There was great enthusiasm for the idea. Maybe someone with the Liberty State movement can hook them up with a good screen printer. Trump voters only, please.

To become a reality, the proposal would require ballot measures in individual counties to start with, and an eventual signoff from the states and federal government. We needn’t spend too much time understanding that process, since it won’t ever come to pass. But the first steps – filing county petitions to begin signature gathering – have been taken in Douglas and Josephine counties, two very red counties in southern Oregon.

I lived for a while in the Douglas County seat of Roseburg, a timber town that was then reeling economically from the impact of the spotted-owl ruling, and I worked at the newspaper that first reported the Greater Idaho movement, the News-Review. It’s as conservative a place as any you’ll find – back then, in the 1990s, anti-gay citizen initiatives appeared on the ballot seemingly every other month, passing with large majorities only to be struck down in court. It’s not all that outlandish to note that the small towns of rural Oregon have more in common with Bonners Ferry or Jerome, Idaho, than Eugene or Portland.

This is true all around the West – maybe all around the world. Deer Park has more in common with Glenns Ferry, Idaho, than it does Seattle. Burns, Oregon, is more akin to Jerome, Idaho, than to Eugene. It’s city mouse-country mouse.

But, at the risk of treating a nutty idea seriously, how might the secessionist line of thinking apply, once these new states are formed, to liberals trapped inside Greater Idaho or the Liberty State? What about Boise and Spokane?

Don’t they deserve a state perfectly aligned with their views as well?

A state where they get what they want all the time?

Would the next logical step be for Boise or Spokane to become tiny blue states inside these new red states? And would we then need new states for conservatives in liberal cities – an all-new state of North Indian Trail, say, or Southgate, seceding from the all-new blue state of Spokane, which seceded from the all-new Liberty State, which seceded from dumb old Washington?

And what about that one lone liberal couple in that new conservative neighborhood-state? A state of their own? A one-house state?

The idea of Greater Idaho is not much saner than that. If the folks behind it really want to live in the Idaho political system, there’s a much easier way to do it: Move.

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