If you drive along or near Interstate 5 in the area between Grants Pass, Oregon, and Red Bluff, California, you’ll see frequent references in road signage – and hear some on some radio outlets – to the State of Jefferson.
You won’t find it on a map, but it has been in the minds – and hearts? – of many people along the Oregon/California border for decades. It goes back to a plan proposed in 1941 by the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, intended to create a 51st state out of much of that area, and would have placed the capital at Yreka, in what was and is California.
Despite revivals in recent decades, and a local populist fist-pumping that resembles in some ways that of the old Confederacy, the effort never has made much progress. (The change made would involve getting approval from all affected existing states, plus approval by Congress.) But the reference to an informal State of Jefferson does have some basis as a matter of political analysis, because this area, the southwest corner of Oregon and the far north of California, is ideologically far different from the population centers of its two host states: At least as (actually more) conservative and Republican than their full states are liberal and Democratic.
Politically, the theoretical state of Jefferson overall is a lot like the actual state of Idaho.
This year, regional and even national news reports say some people in some of the conservative sectors of Oregon are coming up with another idea, looking east more than south: Not a new state but rather a shifting of the state boundaries, to extend Idaho west all the way to the Pacific Coast, including just about all of the State of Jefferson, including much of northern California.
The ungainly-looking would-be addition to Idaho seems carefully drawn to exclude nearly any population center with a significant trace of blue. The smallish city of Ashland, Oregon, which is strongly Democratic, would be the largest. The Idaho state line would stop just short of Chico, California (a mostly Democratic university town), Bend, Oregon (historically Republican but these days trending blue) and the Democratic parts of the northern Oregon coast. If this new territory were added, Idaho would be just about as red as it is today.
California would be even deeper blue than it already is. And Oregon, which now is a mostly but not overwhelminglyDemocratic state, would become about as slam-dunk blue as Idaho is red. You probably could find Portlanders who would be happy with the landectomy.
And that’s where the problems start to come in.
One advantage Oregon and Washington have – sometimes hard to see when the political warfare heats up – is that these states are not all blue or red. They have plenty of people of both, and other, persuasions. Washington’s state legislature was split between Republican and Democratic control until recently, and Oregon’s legislature is close enough that in most recent cycles the battle for control of the chambers actually is serious. Democrats win most of the statewide offices, but usually not by overwhelming margins. The secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, is held by Republicans in both states.
When you live in Washington or Oregon, you get some exposure to the views and proposals of not just one side but of both. The parts of Oregon that would be in “Greater Idaho” in fact often see their local preferences – on statewide ballots – headed to defeat on election day. But they contribute importantly to the conversation. At the state legislature conservative ideas, and conservative critiques of liberal ideas, are heard and have to be taken seriously. The value of that is widely (even if not universally) recognized. It can make for legislation and ballot issues that, for example, in more cases can hold up to popular votes and court challenges, and will survive over time.
It’s a strength Idaho has in shorter supply. Over the last generation, as Idaho Democrats have withered in political clout, the public conversation often circles inward to involve only Republicans and conservatives – other viewpoints need not apply. That kind of narrowness is not helpful.
Of course, if what you really want to hear from and experience only people who think and vote the way you do, that may be comforting. But it’s also short-term and limited thinking. A “Greater Idaho” wouldn’t, then, help much in making for a greater Idaho.