What's this Greater Idaho thing?
This Nov. 3, Jefferson County voters will join voters in three other counties in deciding whether to take a tentative step toward leaving the state of Oregon and becoming part of Idaho.
If it passes, ballot measure 16-96 will require Jefferson County commissioners to meet twice a year to "discuss how to promote the interests of Jefferson County in any negotiations regarding the relocation of the Oregon-Idaho state border."
Measure 16-96 is on the ballot thanks to a petition circulated by the nonprofit organization Move Oregon's Border. The petitioners collected 532 valid signatures—one more than the required 531.
On its website, Move Oregon's Border lays out an ambitious proposal for Oregon's rural counties—19 of Oregon's 36 counties—to switch state membership from Oregon to Idaho. Its rationale for doing so is that the state of Oregon is out of touch with the needs of rural Oregonians and that Idaho is a better fit because of its lower taxes and less restrictive environmental regulations.
If it passes, this ballot measure will be the first of multiple steps in the process for changing state borders. For the movement to succeed, Oregon, Idaho and the United States Congress would each have to approve the move and that would likely take several years to accomplish.
In the near term, Jefferson County commissioners have expressed some confusion about what ballot measure 16-96 would require of them.
The ballot measure prescribes two meetings per year on the third Wednesday of February and August but isn't specific on the content or the structure of the meetings.
Commissioner Wayne Fording said that Move Oregon's Border had not met with the Jefferson County commission to talk about their plans. "It's not like I can tell you what these meetings are going to look like," he said.
Commissioner Kelly Simmelink said of the meetings, "We really are kind of in the dark as to what is going to happen."
However, Mike McCarter, Move Oregon's Border's chief petitioner in Jefferson County, said that the meetings are almost beside the point.
He said Move Oregon's Border's goal with the ballot measure is to determine Jefferson County residents' level of interest in moving the border. If citizens pass the measure, McCarter said, it will help the organization make its case with the state legislature, which would eventually have to sign off on the border change before it could happen.
Move Oregon's Border wanted a different kind of ballot measure, one that asked voters for a simple yes-or-no vote on whether the states should consider moving the border. But under state rules, that type of ballot measure cannot be placed on the ballot by a petition effort because it is not legislative in nature.
Only the county commissioners can place an advisory vote on the ballot, and Douglas County's commissioners have been the only ones to do that so far.
McCarter asked Simmelink to put forward an advisory vote in Jefferson County, but Simmelink wanted Move Oregon's Border to get citizen input by gathering signatures.
"What I want the public to know is that this board did not bring this [ballot measure] out. It's citizen driven," Simmelink said.
In Jefferson County, it took the petitioners five tries to come up with a ballot title that met state criteria and could be certified by the county clerk and the district attorney.
McCarter said signature gathering has been more challenging than usual because of COVID-19 restrictions. He sued the state of Oregon in federal court in an attempt to obtain relief by either extending the time period for signature gathering or reducing the number of signatures needed.
McCarter lost the case but still was able to collect enough signatures in Jefferson County by setting up his table alongside petitioners seeking to recall Governor Kate Brown.
Move Oregon's Border has similar ballot measures on the ballots in Wallowa and Union counties and is still gathering signatures in 11 counties with the hope of getting measures on the May 2021 ballots.
McCarter said that if the Oregon legislature expressed willingness to move forward with changing the border, the prescribed meetings would become more important because commissioners would use them to hash out the many details that would have to be considered.
Simmelink, who has had two or three conversations with McCarter about the ramifications of changing the border, ticked off several questions, such as what would become of existing tri-county agreements between Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes counties and perhaps the most important issue of irrigation water for Jefferson County farmers.
That's because the proposed map calls for only parts of Jefferson and Deschutes counties to be annexed to Idaho, resulting in a situation in which Jefferson County's farmers would end up in Idaho, but their water source, Wickiup Reservoir, would remain in Oregon.
According to the proposal, the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and the Deschutes National Forest would also remain in Oregon.
Move Oregon's Border's proposed map takes in all of Crook County but there are no petitions circulating in either Crook or Deschutes counties due to difficulties in drawing up petitions that meet state criteria.
Jefferson County Commissioner Mae Huston was hesitant to endorse moving Oregon's border, but said of the measure, "If the citizens want us to talk about it, that's what we'll do."
While he is also skeptical about changing the border because of the many difficult issues it would raise, Simmelink acknowledged that the frustration felt by rural Oregonians toward urban-based policymakers in the Willamette Valley is significant and valid.
"Some of the urban policies really hurt the rural communities more than they know," Simmelink said.
Move Oregon's Border's long-term plan extends beyond changing the Oregon/Idaho border. If and when that is accomplished, the organization will turn its attention to annexing northern California counties by changing the California/Idaho border, creating a massive state labeled Greater Idaho.
Move Oregon's Border's 39-page proposal posted on its website explores the idea that the United States might break apart along red state/blue state lines or that Idaho might someday choose to secede from the United States. If Greater Idaho did secede, the proposal says, possessing counties that are currently part of Oregon's southern coast would provide it with seaports that would make it more viable as a nation.
In addition to requiring the commissioners to meet twice a year, ballot measure 16-96, if passed, provides for a fine of $125 for anyone seeking to obstruct the meetings and does not give any end date for the meetings.
For more information about the Greater Idaho movement, check out the website greateridaho.org.
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