ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County — Idaho? Give the Gem State a seacoast and a border with California?
That could be the outcome if efforts succeed by a group called Move Oregon’s Border in some of the 20 counties where the group has filed requests to collect signatures on petitions.
The deadline to gather signatures in Oregon counties is early August for them to go before voters in November. Wallowa County Clerk Sandy Lathrop received the petition in April and, after conferring with the county’s legal counsel, District Attorney Rebecca Frolander, Lathrop notified Move Oregon’s Border President Mike McCarter on May 5 that the group may begin collecting signatures in the county. Only 242 signatures are needed to get it on the November ballot.
“We’ve done it county by county because we’re asking for advisory votes from each county’s commissioners,” said McCarter, who lives in La Pine.
He said the real reason behind the movement is because many people in Oregon’s rural counties feel overlooked by the urban-dominated state government.
“If you love your county but you are sick of your state government, then help us move the state border. Idaho’s governance fits our needs and our values better,” he said.
McCarter said county clerks in eight of the 20 counties have approved requests to circulate petitions, including Baker, Curry, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Josephine and Umatilla counties, along with Wallowa County.
Union County denied the group's petition, as have 10 other counties, and the status of Jackson County is pending. Many of the rejections, McCarter said, were because of procedural problems such as in Jackson County. The county clerk there, Christine Walker, said Friday, May 8, that initial requests were rejected mostly because they were deemed by county legal counsel to be administrative rather than legislative, as required by the Oregon constitution. That was the same reason Union County rejected the petition.
Jackson County could decide Tuesday on the group’s most recent proposal. And as of last week, there are appeals for at least five of the petitions. The effort also includes several counties in northeastern California.
County clerks in the Oregon counties were contacted for confirmation of the petition’s request in their counties, but only a few responded and confirmed the status McCarter listed.
McCarter is uncertain about the effort’s outcome.
“I’m not sure. I believe it can happen, but until we start going down that road ... we won’t know,” he said. But, he noted, it has been done in the past. The U.S. Constitution and state constitutions include provisions both for creating new states and moving state borders.
The most dramatic case was during the Civil War, when West Virginia — which had refused to join Virginia in seceding from the Union — seceded from Confederate Virginia and formed a new state in 1863. Later that year, the new state acquired a couple more Virginia counties.
More recently, in 1961, a county border was altered between Minnesota and North Dakota.
McCarter said a recent resolution passed in West Virginia welcomes Virginia counties to join the state over opposition to the Virginia governor’s strict gun control policies. He said a case more similar to Oregon’s is ongoing in rural Illinois where people are frustrated with being dominated by urban Chicago’s control of the state. They are considering joining more rural Indiana, he said.
But the effort isn’t just to get Salem to sit up and take notice of rural Oregonians.
“We’re not doing it just to make a statement,” McCarter said. “We are doing it to actually move Oregon’s border.”