The rural Oregon counties that want to hitch their wagons to conservative Idaho? Experts say it’s a long shot, but far from impossible.

  • Seven rural Oregon counties have voted in favor of pursuing a potential move to conservative Idaho.
  • Experts told Insider the secession effort is unlikely to succeed, but not impossible.
  • “I don’t think the map of the United States is going to look the same in 2050,” one expert said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The goal of the Greater Idaho movement is straightforward: move Idaho’s border to include most of rural Oregon (and eventually even parts of northern California) – but the likelihood of success is extremely low.

The movement has recently picked up steam, as seven counties have now voted in favor of considering or pursuing the move. Organizers say Idaho’s conservative values align better with those of rural Oregon; they argue conservatives in the solidly blue state are not adequately represented in government.

But state legislatures in both Oregon and Idaho, as well as the US Congress, would have to agree on the move, and it’s not entirely clear why any of the three parties would.

However, experts told Insider the effort is far from impossible and that the idea of moving state lines is not unprecedented. One expert said changing the physical makeup of the United States is not only possible, but almost inevitable.

“I don’t think the map of the United States is going to look the same in 2050,” said Richard Kreitner, author of the book “Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union.”

Moving state lines is not unprecedented, but “Greater Idaho” is unique

In American history, there are multiple examples of states being broken up.

Before North Dakota and South Dakota were established in 1889, there was the Territory of Dakota. West Virginia was formed in 1861 when it separated from Confederate Virginia. Maine became a state in 1820 after voting to secede from Massachusetts. And Kentucky broke off from Virginia to become the 15th state in 1792.

But while moving state lines is not unheard of, the efforts of the Greater Idaho movement stand out for a couple reasons.

A group of Trump supporters stand carrying American flags, with one wear a Trump mask and sunglasses
Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a ‘ Stop The Steal ‘ rally at the Oregon State Capitol protesting the outcome of the election on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 in Salem, Ore.

First, experts told Insider they did not know of an example where a large portion of a state broke off to join another state, rather than create a new one.

Second, in past examples of state-secession movements, there is typically a clear-cut problem being solved.

In the case of Greater Idaho, there is not a single, well-defined issue that would be solved by secession. Reasons to secede, according to the movement’s website, include: American values, law and order, lower taxes, safety, a less regulated economy, and feeling represented in state government.

The movement’s leaders previously told Insider’s Sarah Al-Arshani Idaho’s values match up better with the values of rural Oregon, and that they want to be better represented in state government. But in past state secession stories, reasons were more concrete.

When Kentucky split from Virginia in 1792, it was largely because people who lived there believed the state government was not doing enough to clear the land of Native Americans, who, understandably, did not want to leave. Despite the reason being immoral, it provided clear motivation for people to form their own state that would better protect their interests.

As for secessionist movements today, including efforts in California and Texas to break away and form their own countries, Kreitner said there’s nothing quite like that, at least not yet.

“I think there’s been a bit of a search for actual issues to hang that sentiment on, but mostly it’s been futile,” he said.

Changing the US map could be a good thing as ‘most state lines are fairly arbitrary’

But that isn’t to say all secessionist movements are equally far-fetched, and Kreitner doesn’t think Americans should “clutch our pearls” too much over the Greater Idaho movement. In fact, he said, reconsidering state lines could be a good thing.

“Most state lines are fairly arbitrary, especially in the west, where they’re often right angles,” Kreitner said. “They are not meaningful distinctions, and they should be looked at again. It could make our politics more rational.”

Frank H. Buckley, a professor at George Mason University School of Law and author of the book “American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup,” agreed that rethinking America’s makeup could be positive.

Buckley told Insider the premise of his book, which focuses on efforts to secede from the United States, is that secession is “far more likely than you think and it may not be such a terrible thing.”

oregon state capitol protests
In this Dec. 21, 2020, file photo, pro-Trump and anti-mask demonstrators hold a rally outside the Oregon State Capitol as legislators meet for an emergency session in Salem, Ore.

As for Greater Idaho, Buckley said it could be a win for all parties. Idaho could expand its state and, in turn, its resources. Oregon lawmakers could benefit from the change as a sort of gerrymandering, further establishing their party’s dominance.

“If you’re a Democratic politician in Oregon, you might think it’s not a bad idea to ditch Republican voters in the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, the proposed population shift is so small that it likely wouldn’t impact congressional representation. And unlike efforts aimed at Washington, DC, statehood, expanding Idaho wouldn’t add to the US Senate.

And some rural Oregonians would likely get a government that’s more in tune with them, something that Kreitner said seems increasingly important after the vastly different state responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

As for rearranging state lines, Kreitner said it’s not clear exactly what that would look like. One proposal, known as bioregionalism, suggests organizing our political, cultural and economic systems around natural features, such as mountain ranges and watersheds, would lead to a more sustainable and just society.

Kreitner said the country’s refusal to consider the idea prevents the exploration and development of worthwhile solutions. But as long as our current political divisions continue, the idea of seceding, either from the country or from individual states, will likely persist as well.

“There’s a lot of talk in all parts of the country about discontent with the current arrangements,” he said. “It’s too appealing, given America’s history.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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