Janae Pierre: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre sitting in for MHP.
The State of Oregon is split geographically by the Cascade Mountains. To the west with urban centers, Portland, Salem, and Eugene, it tends to be progressive. To the east, it's more rural and more conservative. Now, some Eastern Oregonians are getting behind a growing movement known as the Greater Idaho Movement which would move the Idaho border west into Oregon.
Antonio Sierra: The Greater Idaho Movement is a group of people that started a few years ago. Their argument is that Western and Eastern Oregon are incompatible. My name is Antonio Sierra, and I'm the rural communities reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. What they say is that, because urban Oregon is always going to be bigger than rural Oregon, Eastern Oregon and other parts of rural Oregon need to split off to Idaho which is much more conservative and much more aligned with the way the majority of rural Oregon thinks.
Janae Pierre: With this ongoing debate, I asked Antonio where things stand right now.
Antonio Sierra: There has been a bunch of local ballot measures that have passed in 11 counties. These ballot measures aren't a simple yes or no, do you want to join Idaho, but they're more requirements that county commissioners meet regularly to talk about the possibility of joining Idaho, and they're transitioning into lobbying the state legislature, or both state legislatures to begin the process of moving borders.
Janae Pierre: What have Idaho lawmakers said about all of this?
Antonio Sierra: They are able to get a legislator to introduce a resolution that would have the two states meet to start the process. That piece of legislation was successful enough to pass through the Idaho State House. It stalled in the Idaho Senate, and it never got a vote before the session ended. It's not quite as successful in Oregon. There was a resolution that was introduced, and that's as far as it went.
That's where it stands now in both state legislatures. Of course, if both of those end up passing legislatures, then it would go to Congress, but something like this hasn't happened in a very long time.
Janae Pierre: Yes. Antonio, I'm thinking, how realistic is this?
Antonio Sierra: It would take quite a bit. They would need to talk about how taxes would work, how water rights would work, how all the various things that differ from each state would be consolidated and separated off. There are proposed borders that the Greater Idaho Movement has put forth, but those would obviously need to be negotiated further. This just doesn't really seem like it's a priority for a lot of legislators or for either governor, so it's going to take quite a bit to even get to the stage of negotiations.
Janae Pierre: Is there any historical precedent of state borders moving?
Antonio Sierra: Yes. There's been a few slight adjustments over the years, but the one that citizens for Greater Idaho like to point to is when West Virginia split off from Virginia during the Civil War. That happened a couple of centuries ago, and it's not something that's happened recently, but they say it's not unprecedented and that it can happen if they push hard enough. It's definitely an uphill climb and something that hasn't happened even within recent history.
Janae Pierre: Yes, even within the last 100 years.
Antonio Sierra: Yes, for sure.
Janae Pierre: Okay. We need to take a quick break here, but more when we come back on The Takeaway. Okay. We're back talking about the Greater Idaho Movement, which is gaining momentum in some counties in Eastern Oregon. I'm talking with Antonio Sierra from OPB in Portland. Given that there's no recent historical precedent for moving state borders and that the plan seems well improbable, it would have to pass the Idaho and Oregon legislatures and also require an act of Congress. Is this maybe really more of an attempt for Eastern Oregon, a red minority in a blue majority state, to try to get a bigger seat at the table in the state?
Antonio Sierra: Yes. That's what I've heard and read sometimes in reading coverage over the past few years about this movement. There are some folks who are very serious about wanting to take this step, wanting to rearrange the state lines. Other people are voting for this or supporting this because they just want to send a message to people they feel are ignoring them or not taking them seriously.
If you make a bigger move as I would like to join another state to have my views heard and to have my opinions taken seriously, then I'll do that even if they recognize that this is something that's not imminent or something that may not happen in the near future, if at all.
Janae Pierre: Yes, but the fact that we're talking about this right now, what do you think this says about the political divisions more broadly?
Antonio Sierra: I think this has gained as much attention as it has because outside of Oregon, the perception is that Oregon is this progressive liberal place through most of the state, and the fact is that it's not. I think we're seeing the urban rule divide all over the country, not just in Oregon, and so to have an organized political movement trying to get this done I think makes people want to talk about this urban rule divide more.
It gets people that like to speculate what's going to happen with this seemingly unbridgeable gap between urban and rural. It's a lot of different things and more than just, will these set of counties move from one state or another? Which again hasn't happened in many, many years.
Janae Pierre: We think of Oregon as a blue state, but what does this separatist movement say about the whole idea of blue states and red states?
Antonio Sierra: The blue state, red state political maps have kind of skewed perceptions as to what the political makeup is of every state. I think even drilled down to the county level, red county, blue county, it creates the perception that everyone there is in lockstep politically and everyone thinks the same way and votes the same way. That's simply not the case. Even when you dive down to the community level, there are so many differing opinions and so many political views.
I think this is, and this is why so many people are paying attention to this is because Oregon may not be the kind of big progressive bastion that everyone always envisions it to be, even though overall it is a more progressive place than a lot of other states. I think there's so much more to the story. Even amongst the red conservative parts of Oregon, there are pockets of places that have different cultures, different politics than you would anticipate.
Janae Pierre: Antonio Sierra is a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Antonio, thanks so much for your time today.
Antonio Sierra: All right. Thank you so much, Janae.
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