Douglas County voters could have a chance this November to weigh in on whether they’d like to ditch Oregon and join the Gem State.
The proponents of the “Greater Idaho” project hope to convince Oregon and Idaho residents that southwestern and eastern Oregon don’t really belong in the Beaver State.
They say the swaths of conservative, pro-Trump, anti-tax voters that populate Oregon’s rural counties have more in common with Idaho — so why not join it?
Greater Idaho supporters filed a petition with the Douglas County Clerk’s Office this week for a local ballot measure. But even if county voters say “yes” to becoming Idahoans, there would still be a long, uncertain road ahead. The two states’ legislatures and the U.S. Congress would have to sign off on a border change.
The Douglas County initiative petition is at the District Attorney’s office awaiting approval of a ballot title, Douglas County Clerk Dan Loomis said Thursday morning.
In order to get the measure on the Douglas County ballot, the petitioners must collect 2,954 signatures — 6% of the votes cast for governor in 2018.
Co-Chief Petitioner Valerie Gottschalk lived in Idaho for four years back in the 1980s and loved it. She’s a conservative Christian and feels that the state reflects her values more than Oregon does. She’s also lived in California and Portland, but currently lives in Josephine County, where the group is also gathering signatures for a Greater Idaho measure.
Greater Idaho supporters believe joining Idaho would be simpler than the better-known proposal to combine Southern Oregon and Northern California into the State of Jefferson.
That’s because building a brand new state would create two new Republican U.S. senators — a plan likely to be quashed by the California and Oregon legislatures’ Democratic majorities.
Greater Idaho proponents would eventually like to bring conservative northern California counties into Idaho as well. But that’s Phase 2. Phase 1 is convincing Idaho and Oregon to change their borders.
Gottschalk said the campaign to join Idaho is rolling, fueled in part by enthusiasm generated by the unsuccessful attempt to recall Gov. Kate Brown.
She said both rural and northwestern Oregon would benefit from a split.
Southern and eastern Oregon receive a disproportionate amount of taxpayer funds from the more prosperous parts of the state, which wouldn’t have that financial drain if the rural counties left. And the rural counties could benefit from lower taxes and fewer business regulations in Idaho, she said.
“Idaho doesn’t have the regulations that are sitting on everything. They don’t give so much voice to the environmentalists that want to shut everything down,” she said.
Rural Oregon and Idaho are more similar politically than rural and northwestern Oregon. The rural counties included in the proposal voted about 2-to-1 for Republican President Donald Trump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. So did Idaho. But many Northwestern Oregon counties favored Clinton.
Much of Timber Unity’s conflict with Salem over cap-and-trade legislation might melt away if rural counties were to leave the state. Idaho and rural Oregon are more closely aligned on issues like gun rights and land use laws, too.
Gottschalk feels the distance between rural and northwestern Oregon reflects a broader trend of political division in the country.
“The Democrats and Republicans seem to have a split in them right now that’s so vast I don’t know how it’ll ever, ever, ever get resolved. There’s no compromise anywhere. Everybody has got their feet dug in real nice and deep and has no intention of even listening to the other side,” she said.
Idaho, currently landlocked, could gain a coastline if it annexed rural Oregon and access to international trade that could boost its economy.
It would also gain public universities including the Oregon Institute of Technology, Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University. But Oregonians becoming new Idaho residents would likely lose their in-state tuition benefits at the remaining colleges, including the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.
The new Idaho residents would have to pay 6% sales taxes on goods purchased in the newly enlarged state. They could pump their own gas. And they’d have a lower minimum wage. Currently, Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.29. That compares to between $11 and $11.25 in Oregon, depending on the county.
If all the counties in the proposal were to join Idaho, that state would increase its population by 71% to 2.9 million and Oregon’s population would decrease by 21%, according to Greater Idaho.
The counties proposed to join Greater Idaho include Baker, Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler. Portions of Wasco, Jefferson and Deschutes would also be included, but Bend would remain in Oregon.
It’s not the first time some Oregonians have pushed to join Idaho. In 2015, La Grande farmer Ken Parsons suggested adding eastern Oregon and eastern Washington to Idaho — an idea that so far has failed to gain any traction.