- Rural organizers in Oregon are pushing to have more than 18 counties join Idaho.
- The Greater Idaho movement would transfer more than 70% of the state’s land to Idaho.
- Leaders of the movement say Oregon’s state legislature does not represent rural residents.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Seven rural Oregon counties have already voted in favor of an effort aimed at leaving Oregon and becoming part of Idaho and organizers of the Greater Idaho movement say more counties will soon have the option on the ballot.
“We want out from underneath Oregon’s governance and go underneath Idaho’s governance, which we tend to match up better with, as far as our values go,” the group’s president, Mike McCarter, told Insider. “Now for 20 years plus, we’ve been trying to change the makeup and improve the makeup of the Oregon legislature but when you haven’t got the vote, there’s not much you can do about it.”
The ballot measures called on officials in each county to start considering the move and are the first step of adding the region to Idaho.
Leaders of the movement told Insider the effort started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic after the GOP in the state attempted to recall governor Kate Brown.
“We’ve had two legislative sessions in our state Capitol where Republicans walked out and denied votes because for these rural communities, that was their last-ditch effort to make sure their livelihoods were protected. So this was the natural solution to all those and learning from all those other experiences,” Keaton Ems, a spokesman for the group, told Insider.
Ems said he’s hoping the group’s goals could be met in the next four to six years but says they’re taking small steps alongside the legislative sessions to slowly push the effort along.
McCarter told Insider the proposed new border would encompass 18 full and three partial Oregon counties and account for about 860,000 of Oregon’s population.
While that’s only 21% of the state’s population, the landmass is more than 70%, a figure that McCarter said highlighted how centralized the state’s government is.
“You add those rural counties and that area to Idaho’s current area, it would make Idaho the third largest state in the union after, after Alaska and Texas,” McCarter said.
An effort to change the border would require the approval of the Oregon and Idaho state legislatures, as well as the US Congress, but McCarter says he sees no reason why it wouldn’t go through.
McCarter said in the seven counties that voted in favor of the effort, support ranged from 54% to a high of 74%, but two counties have so far also voted against it.
Rural Oregonians say they have no voice in state legislature
Ems and McCarter said the issue behind the push to join Idaho is centered around the fact that Oregonians living in the rural areas don’t feel represented by the state legislature.
The vast majority of the population lives in urban centers and skews Democrat, while those living in the rural area tend to skew Republican.
“78% of the people are in the urban area, more or less in the Willamette Valley in Portland. They control the legislature completely. They have a supermajority. That’s why they don’t care to listen to those representatives from central or eastern Oregon. They’re dealing with issues around urban folks and their social agenda is to be a sanctuary state to allow the homeless people to come in, to reduce the laws on drugs, to remove or lessen than the budget for police officers,” McCarter said.
“We’re not saying that that is wrong. We don’t agree with it, but they’re dealing with those issues and those aren’t the issues that we have. Rural Oregon is traditional, has traditional values. We’re more into our communities, more into our schools, more into supporting law enforcement. Right is right and wrong is wrong,” he added.
Ems said the majority had “no incentive” to include those in the rural parts as part of the decision-making process and those living in “concrete jungles” are simply telling those “who live and steward the land how to run their own land.”
McCarter said for those in the rural parts, it’s like they’re being “taxed without representation.”
The group’s Facebook page was labeled as “insurrectionist”
The Greater Idaho Movement is working to directly send information to families living in rural counties, especially as they work to get the idea on the ballot in more counties.
He said they’ve been successful at sending direct mail to families in these communities and going out and hosting events. McCarter said the group’s Facebook page was shut down on January 6 after the Capitol Riot when the social media company said objected to six posts and labeled the group’s page as insurrectionists.
“When Facebook removed a lot of people from Facebook [following the January 6 Capitol Riot], we were one of them who lost our page and we were not talking insurrection or anything. We’re strictly by the book,” McCarter said.
Ems said he wanted it to be clear that this isn’t a “succession” effort, only a move to align the rural parts of Oregon with a government that best speaks for them.
He said the group has spoken to Idaho legislators who are in favor of the effort, but there hasn’t been a lot of conversation with Oregon’s legislation which is currently in session. Ems said he’s working on speaking with legislators in Oregon once the session is over to get the ball rolling.
McCarter said Oregon’s legislature start paying attention to their cause now that seven counties have already voted in favor of the effort.
“It does send a voice up the line and so our goal there is to get more counties to speak on how they feel about it,” he said.