Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Greater calculus

The push for a “Greater Idaho” jurisdiction transition – extending the state of Idaho west to include most of eastern Oregon – got started with enthusiasm in a number of rural Oregon communities.

Although 11 Oregon counties have in fact voted for the idea the heavier momentum for it now seems to be centered in the Idaho Legislature.

Last week, the Idaho House passed a memorial (now under consideration at the Senate) saying, “the Idaho Legislature stands ready to begin discussions with the Oregon Legislature regarding the potential to relocate the Oregon/Idaho state boundary, in accordance with the will of the citizens of eastern Oregon, and we invite the Oregon Legislature to begin talks on this topic with the Idaho Legislature.”

It makes for great PR for state officials in Idaho – “just look at all these people in the blue state who want to go red with us!” – and there’s no criticizing them for taking advantage of it on that level.

But nothing will come of this, of course. The idea has been raised at Salem, receiving no serious traction. The hurdles of changing a state boundary are such that hardly ever in American history has it been accomplished, though often proposed.

All that said, what sort of practical impacts might we be talking about?

On a partisan level, the shifts would not help Republicans, though Democrats could see some pluses.

Bear in mind that these counties (I’m including here all 11 voting so far in favor of the change, including Jefferson and Klamath, which are too closely tied to the west realistically to cut off) are among Oregon’s most rural, remote and lightly-populated places. They occupy more than half of Oregon’s land mass (Oregon has more square miles than Idaho) but include fewer than five percent of its people, at 208,800 barely a quarter of what you’d need to form a congressional district. The area hasn’t been growing in population.

(You might reflect on the idea that at least five percent of Idahoans – including a large chunk of the capital city – probably would be happy to secede from the Gem State, given the option.)

Idaho presently is well positioned as is to pick up its long-awaited third congressional district after the 2030 census, but an infusion of 200,000 or so from Oregon would come nowhere close enough to add a fourth.

In Oregon (its overall state population is well over double Idaho’s), the loss of the 200,000 would be unlikely to cost its new sixth congressional district. But, since all – every one – of the 11 counties which would be departing are strongly Republican, the more likely effect would involve a shift away from the current mix of four Democratic, one strongly competitive and one (the eastern – the 2nd) strongly Republican. The probable outcome once remapping dust settled, with the departure of so many Republican votes, would be six districts all leaning in the Democratic direction. (U.S. House Democrats might reasonably be pushing for Greater Idaho.)

In Idaho’s legislature, the mandatory 35 districts would be stretched a little larger across more constituents, increasing the district populations by about a tenth. The new western addition likely would make the legislature a shade more Republican, by a seat or two in each chamber, but by not enough so almost anyone would notice. The difference in Oregon, where the parties are much more closely matched in the legislature, could be more substantial: The loss of most of eastern Oregon probably would be enough to lock in supermajority status for Democrats, which (a difference from Idaho) matters there when it comes to passing tax and budget bills.

Speaking of budgets and taxes, there’ll be the matter of imposing the sales tax in the commerce-light (and in many cases commerce-struggling) eastern Oregon counties, and the loss of some now-legal businesses (cannabis-related, for one example) that wouldn’t be allowed in Idaho. In Oregon, those counties take more money from the state government than they contribute, and the same almost certainly would be true in Idaho, creating more pressure than at present when the day comes (as it will) when state revenues and budgets are tighter. And remember: As in Idaho, the bulk of eastern Oregon lands are federally-run.

Little wonder many (mostly Democratic) western Oregonians would be  perfectly happy with the Greater Idaho proposal. The larger wonder is the Idahoans who feel that way.


Share on Facebook