BOISE — On Monday, the Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho organization spoke to a joint House and Senate committee about its desire to have part of Oregon join Idaho. It would make Idaho the third largest state in the country. This invitation to present to Idaho legislators in an official capacity may have been the movement’s biggest win so far in terms of gaining legitimacy.
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, was the driving force in making the meeting possible. Ehardt is the chairwoman of the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. She also gives credit to Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, her Senate counterpart who serves as chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, for helping set up the event.
“Why not have the conversation? It’s an intriguing idea. There absolutely are benefits to the idea. It’s not necessarily something that would happen right away. Oregon, and I dare say Washington and even California, is pushing forward to try to make this happen and get the support for this move. And as Idahoans, I think we should do our part to at least have the conversation,” Ehardt said.
The address consisted of a PowerPoint presentation to the two environment committees followed by a round of questions and answers from legislators. Move Oregon’s two presenters were the organization’s founder Mike McCarter and Mark Simmons, a Republican former speaker of the Oregon House who has become another leader of the movement.
The movement to have part of southern and eastern Oregon break off to join the state of Idaho is driven by politics.
“The boundary between Oregon and Idaho is outdated because it doesn’t match the cultural boundary between urban communities who like Portland’s leadership and rural communities that are traditional, family-oriented, self-reliant,” McCarter’s presentation stated.
According to him, it wouldn’t just be conservative Oregonians who should want this border change to happen; there would be benefits for Idahoans too. These benefits include more state tax money, access to the International Port of Coos Bay, new industries and the chance to “alleviate future overcrowding” in Idaho. It would also put the border of Oregon and its more liberal laws further from the population of Boise.
“Northwestern Oregonians voted to decriminalize hard drugs statewide. It’s time to push the Oregon border five hours away, not 51 minutes away from Boise,” McCarter’s presentation stated.
However, the biggest argument was a “moral” one. According to one of his presentation, “Idaho would have the satisfaction of freeing 1.2 million people from immoral blue state laws.”
During the question segment, however, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, was quick to poke holes in the idea. She noted that there are significant differences between the states that would be difficult for even conservative Oregonians to adjust. Some of the differences people mentioned in the committee included a lower minimum wage in Idaho, differences in legal medications and differences in the criminal justice system.
Simmons admitted he did not know the answers as to how these differences would be reconciled. Many of legislators’ questions were met with “I don’t knows” giving the impression that few logistics in the proposal had been examined. The presenters likened the meeting to a “first date;” more serious questions could be figured out later if Idaho wanted to pursue a relationship.
In terms of how likely it is that the border change is successful, Simmons admitted that they needed “an appeal to heaven” to make it happen. The border change would have to be approved by both state governments and the U.S. Congress.
But it does seem to have some support among rural Oregonians. Of the four counties that voted on the matter in November, two voted in favor and two opposed. McCarter is hoping to get the ballot initiative on at least five more counties for the upcoming May 2021 election.