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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Jayne: Oregon secession debate has echoes in Washington

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It might as well have been a story about Washington. Because the issues and the concerns and the divisions that are rankling Eastern Oregon are prevalent in this state, as well.

So when The Washington Post publishes a lengthy article about efforts to have parts of Oregon join Idaho, it echoes discussions that exist in Washington. It also echoes political and cultural caverns that are persistent — and damaging — throughout the nation.

Just this week, after all, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green — a full-time nutcase who moonlights as a congresswoman from Georgia — encouraged states to “consider seceding from the union.” Um, that didn’t go so well last time, so states might not want to give it serious consideration.

But such enmity is not limited to representatives who have little knowledge of U.S. history. And in a way, Oregon has taken it further than most states.

There, residents of 12 eastern counties have voted in recent years to consider leaving Oregon and joining Idaho. Leaders envision 14 counties joining the push, officially dubbed the Greater Idaho Movement; one of those counties is scheduled to vote on the issue in May.

To be clear, it is an absurd proposition. It would require approval from a supermajority of both legislatures and then approval from Congress; the people of Malheur County might as well pass a resolution calling for the New York Yankees to move to Eastern Oregon. But the motivation is more important than the reality.

Individually, reasons for supporting the movement are varied; collectively, they are tied to political ideology. Eastern Oregon is more culturally aligned with Idaho, with residents often finding agreement with the conservative state’s stances on gun rights, abortion rights and marijuana. On those issues, they are divorced from the rest of Oregon.

The problem for the ranchers and farmers and loggers on the east side? The region accounts for 10 percent of the state’s population; the part of the Portland metro area that rests in Oregon (not including Clark County) makes up about 47 percent of the population. Residents of Eastern Oregon are destined to be outnumbered by what they consider a populace that has little interest in their concerns.

“There’s just a pervasive sense that the values that the western side of the state holds are being imposed, in a kind of oppression, on the east,” Nicole Howard, a professor of history at Eastern Oregon University, told The Washington Post. “And the belief held out here is that either they don’t get us or they don’t care.”

Therein lies the problem. And therein lies the parallel. Because similar arguments have been festering in Eastern Washington. Various movements have sought to create a 51st state or have the area east of the Cascades join Idaho, and various leaders have decried what they view as oppression from the liberals in Seattle.

This is not unique. We’re guessing liberals in Nashville and Memphis feel oppressed by conservatives in the rest of Tennessee. And that plenty of Illinois residents feel overwhelmed by the policies of Chicago Democrats. But in a representative democracy, the majority wins — unless we’re talking about the Electoral College.

Which, if the truth is told, strikes at the heart of the issue. Twice in this century, the Electoral College has awarded the presidency to a candidate who did not receive the most votes. And in the U.S. Senate, Democrats represent more than 58 percent of the U.S. population but hold a 51-49 majority only if you count the three Independents who caucus with them.

On a national level, the U.S. system of government has established a tyranny of the minority that emboldens that minority to inflate grievances and embrace an over-developed sense of oppression.

At the state level, that leads to legislative walkouts by Republicans in Oregon and Democrats in Texas. On the personal level, it leads to trying to redraw state lines instead of convincing others to see your point of view. Whether in Oregon or Washington, that represents a danger to democracy.

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