WALLOWA COUNTY, Ore. —
Right now, a grassroots organization is looking to expand Idaho state lines into Oregon.
"Greater Idaho" could incorporate 15 Oregon counties into Idaho.
Matt McCaw, Greater Idaho spokesperson, said the movement is a solution to the urban-rural divide in Oregon.
“We can move the state line between Idaho and Oregon, which was placed there almost 200 years ago when there was only 50,000 people that lived in the entire state of Oregon," McCaw shared. "We can move that state line westward to the Cascades, and get government for Eastern Oregonians from Idaho, which they are much more similar to culturally, economically, politically than they are to Western.”
While the idea of redrawing state lines might be hard to imagine for some, the possible reality is making tangible headway in eastern Oregon.
Come this May, voters in Wallowa County, Oregon will be able to vote on an initiative that would bring county officials into the relocation conversation.
Wallowa County Clerk Sandy Lathrop said it's important to understand voters are not voting on becoming a part of Idaho.
"If you vote yes on this, this means that the commissioners will be discussing whether it's a good idea for us to look into joining Idaho, but it doesn't mean we're going to be joining Idaho,” Lathrop explained.
Even in making this distinction, Lathrop said people still ask her if Oregon could be joining Idaho.
"If I go into the grocery store, people will stop and say, 'Hey, when are we going to move to Idaho?,'" Lathrop said.
Wallowa County voter Marc Stauffer said he hopes the answer to that question is 'soon.' He said he plans to vote yes on the initiative this upcoming May.
He said while living in eastern Oregon, he feels the divide between the two sides and welcomes the idea of becoming a part of Idaho.
“Idaho tends to is more of a rural a kind of economy," Stauffer said. "It's more of a rural area. And Eastern Oregon has always kind of felt like, we identify better with how their legislature handles things, how their agencies handle things. And it would just save a lot of heartache and a lot of frustration. And on both sides from the west side and the east side if we were to be part of Idaho.”
Stauffer has lived in Enterprise, Oregon for 18 years. When asked if he would consider moving to Idaho, he said it'd be easier said than done to leave the state where he was born and raised.
"My business of 43 years is still operating here," Stauffer said. "And we service, Walla Walla and a lot of Eastern Oregon counties. Well, we would have to operate our business and completely change that. That's number one. Number two, there's lots of cattle ranches around here and uprooting your cattle ranch and moving to another state is just economically, not feasible. Especially given the prices of land, and so and so forth. A lot of businesses that are established here, go back generations, and they don't want to move."
Stauffer said he feels like eastern Oregon isn't as heavily considered as the western side in state conversations.
"We are left out of the conversation an awful lot," Stauffer said. "And if we want to be part of the conversation, we have to pack up, and we have to go to Salem. And you have to take the time away to drive the drive back and spend a few days in front of committees to get your point across. "You have to be a pretty loud voice and get pretty serious with it for them to say, Well, okay, we'll listen."
Stauffer may be waiting some time before this becomes a feasible reality.
McCaw broke down the process of redrawing state lines.
“So two states come together, and the two legislatures say, where our border is doesn't make any sense," McCaw said. "It would make more sense here. And as long as those two states agree on where to put it, and they come up with an interstate compact saying we're going to move the border here to where we think it makes sense for both states. Then, the two legislatures agree, that would make it go back to the US Congress. And if they signed off on it, the border would move just like that.”
The Wallowa County clerk said this isn't the first time the county has considered this idea. She said a similar initiative was voted on during the November 2020 general election, but that initiative failed by a slim margin of 46 votes.
If majority of voters vote yes in May, Wallowa County commissioners would meet on the fourth Wednesday of August and February.
Jan. 9, Oregon Senator Dennis Linthicum presented the "Senate Joint Memorial" to the Oregon Senate.
McCaw said there are also plans for Idaho representative Barbara Ehardt to back a bill for the initiative and present it to Idaho legislature.
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