'Greater Idaho' took one step closer to being a real thing as 5 more counties voted to explore leaving liberal Oregon for conservative Idaho

·5 min read
Greater Idaho
The Oregon counties that have expressed support for joining Idaho. USDA/Jon G. Fuller/VW PICS/Universal Images Group/Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images/Insider
  • Rural organizers in Oregon are pushing to have more than 18 counties join Idaho.

  • The Greater Idaho movement seeks to transfer more than 70% of Oregon's land to Idaho.

  • Leaders of the movement say Oregon's Legislature does not represent rural residents.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Seven rural Oregon counties have voted in favor of an effort to become part of Idaho, and organizers of the Greater Idaho movement say more counties could soon have the option on the ballot.

"We want out from underneath Oregon's governance and go underneath Idaho's governance, which we tend to match up better with, as far as our values go," the group's president, Mike McCarter, told Insider. "Now for 20 years-plus we've been trying to change the makeup and improve the makeup of the Oregon Legislature, but when you haven't got the vote, there's not much you can do about it."

The ballot measures in the counties called on county officials to consider the move. Last week, five counties voted in favor of the effort, bringing the total to seven.

Leaders of the movement told Insider that it started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic after Oregon's GOP attempted to recall Gov. Kate Brown.

"We've had two legislative sessions in our state Capitol where Republicans walked out and denied votes because for these rural communities that was their last-ditch effort to make sure their livelihoods were protected. So this was the natural solution to all those and learning from all those other experiences," Keaton Ems, a spokesman for the group, told Insider.

Ems said that he was hoping the group's goals could be met in the next four to six years but that they were taking small steps alongside the legislative sessions to push the effort along.

McCarter told Insider the proposed new border would encompass 18 full and three partial Oregon counties and account for about 860,000 people in Oregon.

While that would be only about 21% of the state's population, it would represent 70% of its land - McCarter said that figure highlighted how centralized the state's government is.

"You add those rural counties and that area to Idaho's current area, it would make Idaho the third-largest state in the union after Alaska and Texas," McCarter said.

Changing the border would require the approval of Oregon's and Idaho's legislatures and the US Congress, but McCarter said he saw no reason why it wouldn't go through.

McCarter said that in the seven counties that had voted in favor of the effort, support ranged from 54% to 74%, but two counties have so far voted against it.

Rural Oregonians say they have no voice in the state Legislature

Ems and McCarter said the push to join Idaho centered on Oregonians living in rural areas who don't feel represented by the Legislature.

Most of the population lives in urban centers and skews Democratic, while people living in rural areas tend to skew Republican.

"Seventy-eight percent of the people are in the urban area, more or less in the Willamette Valley in Portland. They control the Legislature completely. They have a supermajority. That's why they don't care to listen to those representatives from central or eastern Oregon. They're dealing with issues around urban folks, and their social agenda is to be a sanctuary state to allow the homeless people to come in, to reduce the laws on drugs, to remove or lessen than the budget for police officers," McCarter said.

Greater Idaho
The Oregon counties that have expressed support for joining Idaho. USDA/Jon G. Fuller/VW PICS/Universal Images Group/Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images/Insider

"We're not saying that that is wrong. We don't agree with it, but they're dealing with those issues, and those aren't the issues that we have. Rural Oregon is traditional, has traditional values. We're more into our communities, more into our schools, more into supporting law enforcement. Right is right, and wrong is wrong," he added.

Ems said that the majority had "no incentive" to include people in the rural parts in their decision-making and that people living in "concrete jungles" were telling those "who live and steward the land how to run their own land."

McCarter said that for people in the rural parts of the state, it was as if they were being "taxed without representation."

The group says its Facebook page was labeled as insurrectionist

The Greater Idaho movement is working to get information to families in rural counties through the mail and events and to get the idea on the ballot in more counties.

McCarter said the group's Facebook page was shut down on January 6, after the Capitol riot, when the social-media company objected to six posts and labeled the group's page as insurrectionist.

"When Facebook removed a lot of people from Facebook" after the riot, "we were one of them who lost our page, and we were not talking insurrection or anything," McCarter said. "We're strictly by the book."

Ems said he wanted to be clear that this isn't a secession effort but a move to align the rural parts of Oregon with a government that best speaks for them.

He said that the group had spoken to Idaho legislators in favor of the effort but that there hadn't been a lot of conversation with Oregon's Legislature, which is in session. Ems said he was working on speaking with legislators in Oregon after the session to get the ball rolling.

McCarter said Oregon's Legislature could start paying attention to their cause now that seven counties have voted in favor of it.

"It does send a voice up the line, and so our goal there is to get more counties to speak on how they feel about it," he said.

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