Over the line: Why some Oregonians want to become part of Idaho

Mike McCarter knows his American history almost as well as he knows his Bible. His family has lived and worshiped in Oregon for four generations. “The only time I lived out of state was during the Vietnam War when I was in the military,” he said.

But its Oregon might not be the Oregon you think of, with its misty, rugged coastline, pinot noir wineries, and loyal blue politics.

McCarter lives in the town of La Pine, in rural and sparsely populated part of the state – the red side of Oregon.

“It’s almost like the Grand Canyon runs right along the Cascade Range,” he told correspondent Lee Cowan. “It’s a big gap.”

What that means politically, he says, is that the blue portion of western Oregon always outweighs the red portion of eastern Oregon. “Speaking to a legislator in the Portland area, I said, ‘The legislature doesn’t listen to our people, our representatives over here.’ He said, ‘Whoa whoa whoa, stop it, Mike. We hear what they remain. We just surpassed you.'”

So McCarter decided to look for greener pastures—or at least a little redder in this case. He leads a movement called Move Oregon’s Border that seeks to squeeze the blue pieces into a smaller but still populous state of Oregon and then take the rural red pieces and make them part of a larger Idaho.

In a state dominated by progressive politics, some Oregonians east of the Cascade Mountains want to push the boundary so their counties become part of Idaho, a more conservative state more aligned with their values.

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Cowan asked, “Approximately how much land are we talking about?”

“About 63% of Oregon’s land,” McCarter replied. “A big chunk.”

Sandie Gilson owns a real estate business in rural John Day, Oregon, which is closer to Boise than Portland in virtually every way. She told Cowan, “If you have a government that doesn’t listen to the opposition or take into account those of us who live out here, then we don’t have government representation.”

“Is it a political difference? Is it a cultural difference?”

“It’s all of the above,” Gilson said. “They won’t hear our worries, they don’t understand our lifestyle.”

She’s been going door-to-door to support the Greater Idaho Movement and says she’s found fertile ground. Of the 11 counties that voted on it, nine endorsed it, and it’s on the ballot in two more counties this November.

Next month, voters in eastern Oregon’s Morrow and Wheeler counties will decide on voting measures in support of Idaho’s incorporation.

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Some who voted against fear it could hamper political discourse. It could even set a dangerous precedent for other states. Others, however, say that pushing a state’s borders seems almost impossible logistically. So, really, what’s the point?

Cowan asked Gilson, “Are you optimistic that you have a chance?”

“I look at it like the American Revolution was a big hurdle and they made it,” she replied.

Richard Kreitner, author of Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union, says the idea is hardly new: “I don’t think we should pretend that state borders are set in stone … We should look at them and say, ‘Does that even make sense?’


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“Secession has always been there. Catholics lived in Maryland, debtors lived in Georgia, you know, Puritans lived in New England. They were kind of separate at first. And that’s why they wanted nothing to do with each other.”

“So it’s really woven into our DNA?” asked Cowan.

“Absolutely. There’s nothing sacred about Oregon. In my opinion, there is nothing sacred about Delaware or my native New Jersey. You know, these are just inherited forms.”

Now you might be wondering why not just move instead of going to the trouble of pushing the boundary above it?

Derek Williams, who describes himself as a libertarian, moved his family from the Portland suburbs to Idaho. “When you feel like you don’t have a voice, you make a decision,” he said. “Leaving family and friends was extremely difficult. There have been many tears.”

In the town of Eagle, Idaho, he said he found other political refugees, a conservative majority, and no more discontent or division. “You come here and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I had no idea it could be like this.’ And you feel accepted and valued for who you are.”

Mike McCarter knows that the concept of majority rule can be messy. What he worries about, he says, is when it comes to tyranny. Something has to be done. And how, he says, is best decided by the voters themselves.

“We are all sending the same message to Oregon leadership that you have a problem in eastern Oregon,” he said. “If we can handle that and it doesn’t turn out the way we want, at least we did it right, so be proud of that.”

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Story produced by Michelle Kessel. Publisher: Remington Body.

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