Tom West, West Words

Tom West

These are unusual times politically in America, what with the rise of populism and socialism as cures for all that ail U.S. society.

Now, even more wackiness is on the horizon. In no fewer than five states, movements are afoot to either split states into more states, or to shift state borders so some counties can join neighboring states.

These movements are allowed under Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part, “ … no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state, nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned, as well as of the Congress.”

These causes have come about because rural folks feel increasingly outnumbered and ignored by metropolitan residents. They also reflect the increased polarization of our politics, in which more of us would rather insult each other than accomplish anything that may be helpful to the public.

The effort is strongest in Illinois, where two groups are trying to do the same thing: eject Chicago from Illinois. Nine county boards in southern Illinois, working with a group called Illinois Separation, have already passed resolutions to hold ballot referendums this year to instruct county officials to correspond with Cook County about splitting off the Windy City. More county boards will be voting soon.

Another group, New Illinois, claims to have operations in 49 of the state’s 102 counties The Washington Times quoted G. J. Merritt, the leader of the group as saying, “We kind of compare it to the way Solidarity worked in Poland, where the people just decided they were done and transitioned from a communist government to a democracy without having a civil war.”

Meanwhile, in Oregon, a different type of drive called “Greater Idaho” is growing. Several county boards there are mounting petition drives to get a question on the November ballot, the purpose being to allow up to 22 of the state’s 36 counties to transition from Oregon to Idaho. Those counties are outside of the heavily Democratic Portland area. The Oregon Senate Republican leader and Idaho’s governor have endorsed the effort.

Unlike Illinois, shifting borders would not add any senators to the U.S. Senate.

In Virginia, some western counties want to join West Virginia. The latter was formed in 1863 during the Civil War after Virginia seceded from the union. Now some rural Virginia counties are feeling powerless because of the growing federal bureaucracy living near Washington, D.C.

West Virginia’s governor backs the idea, and a West Virginia House committee has endorsed the effort with bipartisan support. Virginia seems less inclined to let those captive counties leave. A West Virginia legislative leader told the Washington Times, “if they get rid of the ones that are supposedly their problem, they could have a super-majority with what’s left in their legislature so they could pass the liberal utopia that they want.”

New California is the effort to split the Golden State. California would retain only the coastal counties from Los Angeles to San Francisco plus a narrow strip that reaches inland to Sacramento. The remainder of the state, including San Diego, would become “New California.” Two weeks ago, TV commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the keynote speaker at its sixth constitutional convention.

In New York, the group Divide New York State wants to create three separate self-governing regions within the state, eliminating the need for congressional approval. One region would still be called “New York” and would include only New York City. Long Island and two southeastern counties would comprise “Montauk.” The third region would include the remainder of the state and be named “New Amsterdam.”

Over the decades, many states have considered proposals similar to those above. In the mid-19th century, residents of four counties in northeastern Minnesota thought about merging with northwestern Wisconsin counties and the upper peninsula of Michigan. That would have created a state called “Superior” with Duluth as its capital.

In a state where local governments now believe they have the option to opt out of helping to enforce federal laws they don’t like, some Minnesotans may begin to see what looks like greener grass in the Dakotas, Iowa or Wisconsin.

Yes, Minnesota is one of only 11 states where the largest metro area has more than 50% of the state’s population. However, convincing two state legislatures that changing the border is a good idea would be a monumental task. One state or another is bound to resist either giving up counties that add more to the state’s economy than they receive back in taxes or conversely adding counties that are a drain on state coffers. Also, the cost for courts, prisons, schools, roads and bridges, etc. would not simply disappear. Careful assessment would be needed.

In addition, if the effort includes creating a new state, not just changing the border, don’t expect congressional Republicans and Democrats to agree on adding two new senators.

Far preferable would be to go back to the old-fashioned art of persuasion, educating not only legislators but voters farther away than the next bar stool on any suffering that has resulted from state governance.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at

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