Nearly two weeks ago, five counties in Oregon voted to approve a measure to secede from the state and join its neighbor Idaho. The counties of Malheur, Sherman, Baker, Grant, and Lake joined Jefferson and Union county who had already voted in favor of similar measures last year. According to greateridaho.org, “the ballot measures are a part of an effort to move the Oregon/Idaho border to extend Idaho’s jurisdiction over rural, conservative counties of eastern and southern Oregon. The ballot measures are intended to put pressure on the state legislatures of Oregon and Idaho to negotiate an interstate compact to relocate their common border.” The effort is headed by “Citizens for Greater Idaho”. Eastern and southern Oregon is considerably more rural than its western and coastal counterpart, naturally lending to its conservatism. While Joe Biden won Oregon’s electoral college votes easily, the seven counties that voted in favor of moving the border and joining Idaho handed Donald Trump nearly 70% and 80% of the vote in the 2020 election.
The election results regarding the measure are even more telling with the average “in-favor” vote accruing at 62% with an average of 43% voter turnout, almost twice as high as statewide turnout in the May election. Citizens for Greater Idaho president Mike McCarter stated, “this election proves that rural Oregon wants out of Oregon. If Oregon really believes in liberal values such as self-determination, the Legislature won’t hold our counties captive against our will….If we’re allowed to vote for which government officials we want, we should be allowed to vote for which government we want as well.” The counties of Harney and Douglas will vote on similar measures later this year. If they follow the pattern established by the other seven, then nine counties of Oregon’s 36 would constitute a quarter of the state looking to break away.
While counties in Oregon seek to leave Oregon, this isn’t a secession in the historical sense of the term. There have been several secession attempts over the years, it has usually been whole states seeking to file a petition to leave the country and not counties seeking to withdraw from their state. And since establishment conservatives and the Left have collectively squashed discussion of secession since 1865, this case is different because the Oregon counties seek to move a state border, encompassing them in a friendlier political climate while remaining in the United States.
What is happening in Oregon is not an isolated incident, at least not mentally. Many people who live in rural or less populated regions of large states feel their voice isn’t heard and are treated like backward-looking scum by the densely populated, urban or coastal elite. Although not widely acknowledged politically until 2016, the gap between rural and urban, industrial and agrarian is nothing new. Many of the grievances expressed by rural voters and Trump voters echo our southern forefathers and express political distaste with unfettered free enterprise, unrestricted immigration, over-subsidized farming, and the widespread attack on local institutions. While these issues do not necessarily reflect the concerns and grievances of the Southern people in 1860, American’s concern and dissatisfaction with the current system does reveal an unconscious interest in “the southern tradition”.
It also harkens back to our Declaration of Independence which states, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another… a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” The people of eastern Oregon have clearly laid out their case for why they intend to separate; and furthermore, it is not a rash action they are misguidedly rushing into. The declaration also makes clear, “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form… Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The inhabitants of eastern Oregon are not proposing to break away because of a futile disagreement with how the state ought to be governed. They are making a conscious decision to join another, more agreeable state because their way of life and system of values are under constant bombardment from distant and uncaring coastal snobs who couldn’t identify a dairy cow, let alone take into consideration the everyday concerns of the people who raise them. This is similar to many other regions within these United States and it somewhat mirrors the complaints Southerners had against their Yankee usurpers. Rural American’s particularly those of a conservative dispensation are denied the right of dissent. This was exactly what John C. Calhoun warned against when proposing his “concurrent majority”; and the result of the War Between the States has proven that Calhoun was somewhat of a political prophet. We live in a majoritarian state where the majority are actually a narrowly defined minority who control the means of power and leverage it against those who disagree with them.
A desire for decentralized government, property rights, traditional family values, and the right to defend one’s way of life is reminiscent of what our ancestors south of the Mason-Dixon fought four long years to preserve. Whether Oregonians realize it or not, their act is deeply influenced by those great southern orators and thinkers of yesteryear who espoused the decentralist tradition that prized local autonomy and political liberty above notions of unity and progress. A lingering question is whether this strategy will, again, prove successful or if special interests and lobbyist lawyers will swoop in to ensure the rich farmland of eastern Oregon remains subservient to an ungrateful western adversary. Another question, however, is whether this will prove effective. While the people of eastern Oregon may feel more represented if they belong to red state Idaho, why not simply create their own state? They would still reside within the existing United States but be able to define from the outset their own priorities, rather than adjusting to Idaho’s. The future of decentralization may ride on creating smaller states rather than combining existing states into larger entities. Regardless, eastern Oregon’s movement to break away from its coastal cousin is a necessary step in setting an example for others to consider.
Will this change the national conversation regarding the constitutional right to secession or will that door be slammed shut like so many times before? The Oregon strategy is different from previous attempts by other states, but may prove to be the key to unlocking the door the centralizing, establishment Hamiltonians have kept closed for so long. It may at least offer representation to those who feel they have none or provide a counterweight to the push to create new states that would surely lean to the Left.
We may see similar movements occur in other states if the seven to nine counties in Oregon were eventually successful in seceding or redefining its boundaries within Idaho’s. If successful, perhaps states like Delaware, Virginia, Washington, California, and New York, where similar electoral phenomena occur, can find a pathway forward to restoring the rights and respecting the interests of citizens who feel they have no say, no power, and no hope.
 Reid Wilson, “Oregon counties vote to secede to Idaho,” The Hill, May 19, 2021,https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/554332-oregon-counties-vote-to-secede-to-idaho?rl=1
 “Five Counties Vote for Becoming Part of Idaho,” Greater Idaho, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.greateridaho.org/5-oregon-counties-vote-for-becoming-part-of-idaho/