From the Hopeless Ideas That Just Won’t Die department comes, one more tiresome time, a proposal to split off the eastern half of Washington to create a new state.
This year’s photo-op grandstanding effort originated with Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, in the form of House Bill 1509 — a proposal to divide Washington at the Cascade crest, establishing a 51st state called Liberty.
Catchy. Not going anywhere. Nor should it.
It’s not that the eastern side of the state — out-voted, out-represented and, many would argue with some merit, under-funded by Olympia — doesn’t have grievances. The political power resides on the west side, and that is likely to be even more true in the future. Seattle — envied, despised, castigated and yet frequently visited by many rural residents of eastern Washington — holds sway. No statewide initiative, or candidate for statewide office, can succeed without Seattle’s vote. Lose Seattle and you lose, period.
Yes, people get tired of losing. But the overarching motivational factor behind the Liberty movement is that many folks east of the Cascade crest just can’t stand the west side’s liberal politics and “values.” Well, folks, lots of west siders aren’t too crazy about yours. They think many of you over here are gun-waving, wolf-hating, climate change-denying, evangelism-spouting, MAGA cap-wearing racists, sexists and homophobes. We know that’s an unfairly exaggerated cliché.
But such differences are not, and never should be, a reason to blow things up. The “cultural gap” that conservative east-siders lament is overhyped for self-serving political purposes by many of our legislators. You can argue philosophies and ideologies to exhaustion. But let’s look at the practical considerations. Washington state owns billions of dollars worth of infrastructure, from highways, offices and parks to trucks, State Patrol cars, airports and agency facilities. It employs thousands in eastern Washington.
The remaining Washington state isn’t going to give away those things, or those people. And Washington won’t stand by and let all its stuff be seized. Liberty would have to buy the infrastructure and hire employees. Where are they going to get the money to do that? From a bunch of people who hate paying taxes? From a federal government that a lot of east siders loath? And wouldn’t that be socialism anyway?
Liberty would have to pick a state capitol. Then the new state would have to come up with a constitution, create an entire structure of agencies, a courts system, a new Legislature and instantly provide government services that even eastern Washingtonians have to come to expect as rights of state citizenship. The phrase “cost of Liberty” would have a whole new meaning. Washington state is not going to share a nickel of its revenues with Liberty, which would start its life impoverished. As well, all of the existing relationships with the federal government would have to be renegotiated. What would happen to military facilities? Airports? The Affordable Care Act? Federal revenue streams? National forests? Federal grants to schools and universities? (Hey, Cougs, how do you like Lizzu?)
The Liberty movement is small but noisy, and I doubt represents anything near a consensus. The realistic and rational portion of the populace knows what a wasted effort the Liberty loudness is. In the unlikely and unfortunate event that a division actually occurs, I think the Methow Valley should immediately petition to be annexed to Skagit County or Whatcom County. We’d be a strange little east side appendage, but I’m willing to bet the vote would heavily favor remaining part of the west side. We have long-standing economic, political and cultural connections. Some of our Okanogan County neighbors resent that, but I suspect they are also a bit envious. We do provide the bulk of the county’s hotel/motel tax revenues. You’re welcome. But if you go your own way, we plan to keep that money.