ENTERPRISE — Enough signatures have been gathered to get a petition on the November ballot in Wallowa County to ask voters if they want the County Commission to meet quarterly to consider the benefits of making Wallowa County a county of Idaho, according to a news release.
A movement called Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho (MOB) announced Saturday, July 18, that it has collected enough signatures to put its initiative on the November ballot. The movement wants to move the Oregon/Idaho border to make rural Oregon counties a part of Idaho.
Mike McCarter, of La Pine, said the campaign will continue collecting signatures in case an unusually large number of signatures are determined to be invalid. The county needs only 242 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The collected signatures have not yet been submitted to county Clerk Sandy Lathrop, McCarter said.
“Wallowa County is unique because people were willing to put a lot of time into building a team who were willing to go out despite the lockdown and the coronavirus,” McCarter said. “In Jefferson, Union and Douglas counties, we’ve surpassed half our goal, but we don’t know if we will reach our goal, which is the required number plus 30% extra to account for invalid signatures by Aug. 5. Other counties are farther behind, so we will need a federal injunction to get on the ballot in most of those counties. This lockdown has hurt our ability to collect signatures.”
MOB filed a federal lawsuit June 30, and was assigned a judge who, in another case for another organization, required the state to reduce signature requirements and delay the deadline. U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane’s response to Move Oregon’s Border’s request for an injunction is expected soon, McCarter said.
Wallowa County is one of 17 counties named in the complaint, along with Gov. Kate Brown and Secretary of State Bev Clarno that says the restrictions deemed necessary because of the coronavirus pandemic are making it extraordinarily difficult to collect signatures in a timely manner.
McCarter told of one grocery store in Medford where a stand had been set up to collect signatures and when nearly 20 people got in line to sign it, the store manager shut it down because they weren’t able to maintain social distancing.
“Those people didn’t get a chance to sign the petition,” he said.
Attorney Paige Sully, who serves as counsel for the Wallowa County Commission, said MOB may or may not be able to count on a similar result to the earlier decision by McShane. She noted that the previous group had shown definitively that it had done their best to collect signatures under the COVID-19 restrictions and was unable to do so.
“Any other petitioner who came before him would likewise have to demonstrate they had exercised due diligence to gather signatures and it wasn’t just an effort to circumvent the requirement that they get signatures,” Sully said.
McCarter said that although MOB has no attorneys he has evidence that his group has done all it can to collect signatures under the pandemic conditions.
“We’re not attorneys,” he said. “We’re not playing that game.”
Meanwhile, the Wallowa County commissioners aren’t really worried about the outcome of the lawsuit.
“I don’t have a problem with it getting on ballot,” Commissioner John Hillock said. “We’re not going to spend a lot of money fighting the lawsuit. It doesn’t make a lot of difference if it gets on ballot.”
But he wasn’t taking a stand on the petition’s end goal of moving parts of Oregon into Idaho.
“I don’t really have a position on that,” he said. “I don’t want to sway anybody’s vote one way or another. If the people want to join Idaho, that’s their decision.”
Commissioner Todd Nash agreed, saying that at the July 15 meeting of the County Commission, “We didn’t see this as something we needed to challenge. … As far as I know I think it’s going to be on ballot.”
Both agreed it would be worth discussing.
“Who knows, maybe it wouldn’t be bad opening up the conversation,” Hillock said.
Commissioner Susan Roberts wasn’t available for comment.
But they did say they weren’t as eager to become part of Idaho as to see Oregon reformed to meet the needs of its rural residents.
“There’s a level of pride in being a part of a frontier state and a destination for those crossing the plains,” Nash said, adding that he is proud of being an Oregonian.
“That’s one of the reasons I took this job is to improve things where we’re at,” he said. “I have not taken a stand on this one way or another.”
“We want to move the border because the political atmosphere in Oregon is getting too intense,” McCarter said. “We’ve seen political violence in Portland and Eugene this year and it could get worse. Instead of fighting, Oregon could let citizens in each region of the state choose which state’s governance is more suitable to them. I believe eastern and southern Oregon will agree that Idaho’s governance is better suited to rural counties than Oregon’s is. Combining all taxes together, the average Idahoan paid $1,753 less in taxes per year than the average Oregonian in 2018.”
He emphasized that MOB’s lawsuit isn’t condemning anyone and is just an effort to bring a matter before voters at a critical time.
“There’s nobody wrong in this issue,” McCarter said. “It’s not that we feel the governor or the counties or the secretary of state are wrong. But under this COVID-19 situation, we’re asking for some relief is all and this only process open to us.”