Imagine Bend being Oregon's eastern most city, a short drive from Redmond, Idaho.
"Greater Idaho," the concept of transferring parts of southern and eastern Oregon to Idaho — making Redmond, Idaho a reality — is gaining traction in some rural areas.
According to Mike McCarter, the chief petitioner of Move Oregon's Border, a nonprofit advocating for Greater Idaho, the change would give rural Oregon counties a longed-for Republican-led legislature by leaving liberal strongholds like Portland and Eugene — and even Bend and Sisters — behind in Oregon.
In May, voters in Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman counties approved ballot initiatives that require county officials to study joining Idaho. Union and Jefferson counties passed similar initiatives in November 2020.
Despite those initiatives, a slim majority of Oregonians do not think rural Oregon counties should be able to leave Oregon and join Idaho even with voter approval. And two-thirds of Oregonians think it is unlikely that the move will occur.
That's according to recent polling from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, which asked respondents if they think Idaho absorbing Eastern and Southern Oregon would be positive or negative, if they think it is likely to happen and whether or not it should be allowed with voter approval.
The center's statewide survey of 1,400 Oregon residents, selected to be demographically representative of the state, was done between June 8 and 14. The margin of error ranges from 1.6% to 2.6% per question.
Survey responses reveal a deep rift between Oregonians on the issue. According to Clackamas County resident Patti Shanek, the move would promote separatism, discourage political discourse and raise the cost of living for rural residents.
"The main tax base comes from primarily Democrat counties," she said. "If the red counties became part of Idaho, those forming the new Idaho would have an increasingly high cost of living and limited access to state programs."
But according to Deschutes County resident Amanda Wallace, the move would give rural Oregon conservatives political power which they lack in Oregon's Legislature. "Conservatives don't feel like their voices are heard in Oregon, nor do they feel like their vote counts," she said. "Sadly, Portland, Salem and Eugene make all of the decisions."
Some respondents who oppose the move cited concerns that breaking up the state would discourage a diversity of opinions, setting a dangerous precedent for other states.
"This sets a precedent for reshaping other states along color lines and harming the health of our democracy," said Multnomah County resident Margarette Puckette.
Many argued that unsatisfied Oregonians already have the option of moving to Idaho.
"If members of these counties want to become part of Idaho, then let them move there," said Marion County resident Janis Sabatula. "Why mess with state borders that have been there for more than 160 years?"
Supporters and opponents of the move raised concerns that being a part of Idaho would entail higher state taxes and a loss of significant tax dollars from Western Oregon and its metropolitan counties, plus a loss of revenue and jobs from Oregon's booming cannabis industry, which remains illegal in Idaho.
Some opponents expressed sympathy for residents of rural counties who feel underrepresented. "The rural counties feel underrepresented at the state level, and technically they're right," said Clackamas County resident Hendy Appleton. "But a diversity of views and values is important."
Overall, 38% of Oregonians believe Southern and Eastern Oregon should be able to join Idaho with voter approval, and 34% believe the move would be positive.
Among Oregonians living outside of Portland and the Willamette Valley, 44% support counties being able to join Idaho with voter approval, while only 37% of residents living in the Portland area support counties' ability to do so.
Oregonians older than 75 are the most likely to say that Southern and Eastern Oregon counties joining Idaho would be negative (55%), and respondents ages 45 to 54 are the most likely to say the move would be positive (40%).
More than half of Oregonians with six-figure incomes believe the move would be negative, while some 40% of people with lower incomes believe it would be negative.
Compared to urban and suburban residents, rural residents are the most likely to say voters should be able to approve a county's move to Idaho (43%), and that a move to Idaho is likely (32%) and would be positive (40%).
The survey also used aggregated data to analyze the opinions of Black, Indigenous and other Oregonians of color compared to the opinions of white residents, with this clarification: "BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities."
According to the survey, Oregonians of color are more likely than white Oregonians to say that counties should be able to join Idaho with voter approval (42%) that it is likely (32%) and that it would be positive (36%).
Move Oregon's Border
According to McCarter, chief petitioner of Move Oregon's Border, a key takeaway from the poll is that no clear majority is in favor or opposition to the Greater Idaho concept, because about one-fifth of respondents expressed no opinion.
Another takeaway, McCarter said, is that many respondents expressed unfamiliarity with the idea. He is confident that as rural voters become more informed, they will lean in favor, as was seen during May elections when an average of 62% of voters across five counties voted in favor of Greater Idaho initiatives.
"As citizens of Eastern and Southern Oregon, we ask that northwestern Oregonians make a decision based on what's best for their part of the state, and leave it to us to make a decision based on what's best for our part of the state," he said in a press release. "The election results from our part of the state indicate that we prefer to join Idaho.
"We are asking northwestern Oregonians to examine the benefits to northwestern Oregon of voluntarily letting this territory go," he said.
Dylan Jeffries is a reporter for the Bend Bulletin.
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is committed to the highest level of public opinion research. To obtain that, the non-profit is building the largest online research panel of Oregonians in history to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way. Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, visit https://www.oregonvbc.org.
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