Greater Idaho supporters to rally at fairgrounds Saturday
Senior Staff Writer
Hoping to whip up support from conservative voters, a group that wants to shift the Idaho state line to bring most of Oregon’s rural counties within its orbit will rally in Roseburg on Saturday.
The rally begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Community Conference Hall.
“Greater Idaho” proponents have been cleared to collect signatures among Douglas County residents. They need 2,954 to get the measure on the county’s November ballot.
The Greater Idaho project hopes to convince voters that Eastern Oregonians and Southwestern Oregonians from Douglas County to the California border should be part of Idaho. Signature gathering is underway for similar measures in Josephine and Umatilla counties, and the group is working to obtain approval for additional ballot measures in Coos, Jefferson and Deschutes counties. (The proposal would split Deschutes County, leaving Bend in Oregon.)
Even if they are successful at getting voters in rural counties to approve the idea, those would be no more than opinion votes. The legal process for moving a state line involves gaining approval from both the Idaho and Oregon Legislatures and Congress.
Co-Chief Petitioner Valerie Gottschalk said interest in the Greater Idaho idea is growing. A January meeting in Grants Pass didn’t attract many people, but membership in the online Facebook page has skyrocketed to 4,282 people since the project began receiving first local and then national media attention in February.
“The membership is just champing at the bit. They absolutely do not want to wait. They want to do it yesterday,” Gottschalk said.
Gottschalk said she’s also been contacted by conservatives from as far away as Florida and Massachusetts who have similar feelings about their own states.
One of the motivations behind Greater Idaho is a feeling proponents have that Salem Democrats aren’t listening to rural voters.
Adding fuel to the fire is a dispute over a controversial carbon cap and trade bill that also led to a recent walkout by Oregon’s Republican senators and representatives. Without a quorum, the remaining Democrats — despite being in the majority — cannot take a vote on the bill.
It’s a situation that appears to have little chance of resolution before the legislative session is legally mandated to wrap up its business this weekend.
Democratic and Republican legislators have each said the other side refuses to work with them. Democrats say they’ve held many hearings on the proposal and included changes in the bill requested by Republicans, while Republicans say the process has been rushed and their suggestions have been ignored.
State Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, said they will not return unless the Democrats agree to refer the issue to the voters. He said he believes Democrats don’t want to do that because they don’t trust the voters to approve cap and trade.
Despite his frustrations with the Democrats, Heard doesn’t think pushing for a state border change is the answer.
For one thing, it would take years and an act of Congress to make it happen, he said. He’d like to see Oregonians spend those years working on improving their own state. He said conservative Oregonians need instead to put their focus on getting out the conservative vote and electing more Republicans to the Legislature. If that doesn’t happen, he believes, rural Oregon will suffer.
“Chasing this stuff that has almost no chance of ever happening is what will ensure that we lose everything we hold most precious and dear, and it needs to stop,” he said.
State Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, said he has not taken a position on Greater Idaho, but acknowledged a copy of the Greater Idaho map hangs in his office.
To clarify his point of view on the proposal, he emailed a copy of a speech he made in the Legislature, in which he suggested rural voices are being silenced by the urban majority.
He said he believes the Legislature may be “recreating the anger which led to the American Revolution.”
“We can consider movements such as the State of Jefferson, or the annexation of Southern Oregon by Idaho as laughable. But they represent a growing anger toward this body,” Leif said.
Supporters of the “Greater Idaho” idea have said rural Oregonians would have lower taxes in Idaho, and that the state has fewer business regulations, which they said would benefit the rural economy. Opponents have pointed to the loss of state funding for rural counties, a drop in minimum wage from $11 to $7.25 an hour, and the addition of a 6% sales tax as reasons not to support the idea.
The Idaho State Tax Commission reported in 2018 that the state has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country, ranking it 46th overall. A report by Wallet Hub compared tax rates for poor, middle income and rich people across all states. It found that Oregon’s tax burden is higher for all three groups than Idaho’s, but the difference is particularly notable for the rich, whose overall tax burden as Idaho residents would drop from 9.09% to 7.64%.
Of course, none of that takes into account the potential for changes to the tax structure if a large number of former Oregonians were added to the picture.
It’s also possible that moving to Idaho could create some unintended consequences.
Perhaps surprisingly, environmentalist Francis Eatherington likes the idea of joining Idaho. That’s because she likes its timber industry regulations better than Oregon’s.
“I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to become part of Idaho because we would have far greater protections from aerial herbicide spraying on forestry lands,” Eatherington said.
The timber industry uses spray to help seedlings compete against other plants, but environmentalists believe Oregon’s regulations are too permissive — allowing spraying of toxic chemicals too close to waterways and homes.
The Idaho Forest Practices Act mandates a half mile spray buffer from residential areas, compared with 60 feet in the Oregon State Forest Practices Act, for example. And Idaho mandates a 100-foot buffer from domestic water supply and fish-bearing streams, compared with 60 feet in Oregon.
Another consequence would be a dramatic change in marijuana laws that could impact not only individuals but marijuana businesses, with an unknown impact on the economy and a possible increase in taxpayer costs for enforcement. Marijuana is illegal in Idaho, and possession of more than 3 ounces there is a felony.
Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-957-4213.