09 June 2023

Oregon and Greater Idaho

Since 2019, a separatist movement has been gaining steam in eastern Oregon.  The Greater Idaho movement aims to separate several eastern counties from Oregon and incorporate them into Idaho, thus shifting the state line hundreds of miles westward.

The movement reflects the deep cultural and political division within my state.  Oregon is generally seen as a blue state, but the reality is a bit more complicated.  The Portland metro area in the northwest corner of Oregon has about two million people, half the state's total population.  It, plus the two much smaller cities of Salem (the state capital) and Eugene, form a robust urban "blue" majority which outnumbers the population of the mostly-rural and mostly-"red" remainder of the state.  This "I-5 corridor" as it is sometimes called, after the freeway linking the three cities, maintains a solid Democratic dominance over state-wide politics.  In its attitudes on guns, religion, abortion, drugs, etc, most of rural Oregon is much like Idaho, but this is not reflected in the policies of the state government.  The Cascade mountains also divide the state into two distinct ecological and economic zones, the rainy heavily-forested west and the more arid, thinly-populated east.

So far, twelve eastern counties have voted in favor of joining Idaho or at least studying the idea, but by far from overwhelming majorities.  Last month, in Wallowa county in the northeastern corner of Oregon -- the most recent to vote -- the pro-Idaho side won by a mere eight votes.  These twelve counties have less than a tenth of the total state population but more than half the land area.

Some of the grievances are understandable.  State laws discourage rural easterners from shooting wolves which threaten their livestock and families.  Oregon's very liberal drug laws were passed state-wide despite being mostly rejected in the east.  Our state's overall gun-ownership rate is above the national average, but there is the constant risk of restrictions being imposed by legislators from urban areas who know nothing about the cultural and practical role of guns in rural America.

I have mixed feelings about the movement.  The Republican minority in the Oregon legislature is notorious for behavior which violates democratic norms, such as staging walk-outs to prevent a quorum for votes on legislation.  If there were fewer of them, such tactics would be less effective.  Rural areas are generally poorer than urban ones, and a drain on state finances.  On the other hand, the loss of the eastern counties would make Oregon practically a one-party state, something I'm not really comfortable with; any governing party needs credible opposition to keep it accountable, and the Democrats' stranglehold on the legislature and governorship is already leading them to drift out of touch with citizens on issues like crime.  Long-fixed state borders should not be changed except for very weighty reasons.  There are many areas of the US where similar changes might gain momentum, with the encouragement of a precedent here.  Some Greater Idaho advocates seek annexation of further counties in eastern Washington and even in northern California.  And Oregonians who yearn to live in Idaho do have the option of simply moving there.

Eastern Oregonians might find Greater Idaho less attractive once the practical implications start to sink in.  Idaho has a sales tax, which Oregon does not (though our state income tax is very high).  Idaho's minimum wage is barely half of Oregon's, so the lowest-paid workers might see incomes plummet.  The Oregon Health Plan provides free health coverage to the poorest residents; any easterners who depend on it would lose coverage, unless they could afford to get it via the ACA.

In fact, the border change is unlikely to happen.  Even if the eastern counties formally voted to join Idaho, it would need to be approved by the legislatures of both states and by the US Congress.  Republican members of Idaho's legislature have expressed some support for the idea, but it's hard to see our own legislature or Congress going for it.

Some of the grievances could be addressed if the state government were willing to be more open-minded and devolve some issues to the local level.  With a bit of thought, most urban residents surely realize that they have no serious insight into issues like control of predatory wildlife (aesthetic romanticization of creatures like wolves, by which they themselves never need fear being attacked, doesn't count).  And how easy it is to buy a gun in Wallowa county has no impact on anybody in Portland.  If the Greater Idaho movement forces some re-thinking and accommodation on such issues, it will end up being of benefit to Oregon after all.

07 June 2023

Image round-up for 7 June 2023

More pictures, some slightly NSFW -- click for full size.

(If you're looking for the previous post, click here.  For the link round-up, click here.)

Somebody doesn't like competition, maybe?

Baby orangutan


Ruins of the Roman city of Marciana Traiana (Timgad) in present-day Algeria, showing modern-style grid layout

Storms on Jupiter

Terraces for growing grapes to make wine, northern Portugal

Some people think animals can go to Heaven -- if so, why not Hell too?