One of the peculiarities about Oregon and her politics is the great cultural and economic divide between the rural and urban areas, which has been growing more pronounced in recent years.
Much has been said and written about this rift between East and West and how it is leading to distrust, resentment, polarization and gridlock. Residents of Eastern Oregon are constantly complaining about rules and regulations foisted on them by Portlanders who don't seem to care about what adverse effects meto-backed measures may have on people living East of the Cascades. Conversely, people who live in the metro areas say they are tiring of having to subsidize schools, infrastructure, people and programs in the rural districts.
Apparently Oregon is not the only place that is wrestling with the great rural/urban divide. It appears that the citizens of Washington are facing the same dilemma.
A couple of Washington legislators are taking a novel approach to this problem by proposing that state boundaries be written to better reflect current political, cultural, and socioeconomic realities. Sen. Bob Morton and Sen. Bob McCaslin, who represent constituencies in and around the Spokane area in Eastern Washington, have introduced a bill (SB 5663) calling for a study of the feasibility of creating a new state in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington.
Morton says Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington are similar in culture and climate, as are Western Oregon and Western Washington. He wants to set aside $27,000 to study the feasibility of changing the two states' boundaries.
Of course people on the West side of Morton's state think his proposal is a big joke, that people on the East side could not possibly get along without them. But Morton is not so sure. He points out that 20 percent of Washington's economy is based on agriculture and that most of that is located in the eastern portion of the state. A new state would have the opportunity to draft a Constitution and state statutes free of the over-regulation that is currently choking businesses in Oregon and Washington. He contends that formulation of a new state would stimulate all kinds of new cottage industries.
"We've got a lot more in common between our two areas that would make for better living conditions and living atmosphere," said Morton. "It's rural versus urban. I think it merits a look."
That seems reasonable enough.
This is not the first time that a new state has been proposed over philosophical and lifestyle differences between East and West. About 20 years members of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce formed an imaginary state which they dubbed, "the State of Eastern Oregon." They even elected a governor, attorney general, secretary of state and other dignitaries who attended parades and rallies to focus attention on rural issues that were being ignored in a political agenda set by urban legislators. Before that, the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce proposed seceding from the nation over attempts to designate Hells Canyon as a wilderness area, devastating the local agricultural base. The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., for years has referred to Spokane as the capital of the Inland Northwest.
The current effort to redraw state boundaries is different from previous initiatives because it is more than frivolous political satire. Morton insists that he and his constituents are serious about the notion of breaking away from the west side of the state.
People in Seattle and Portland may laugh Morton's bill off as nothing more than a farce, and in the end they may be right. For the moment, however, it is the most innovative approach that we have seen to resolving the difficult rural/urban divide that has baffled political operatives in both states for years. It is so unorthodox that it might just work. R.S.