Republican voters in Eastern and Central Oregon are so fed up with liberal lawmakers that they want to break rank — and state lines — and become part of Idaho.
On Tuesday, two Oregon counties, Morrow and Wheeler, are set to vote on a ballot measure about whether to explore leaving the state. Since 2020, nine counties in Eastern Oregon have already voted to join the Greater Idaho movement.
“People in Eastern Oregon are just different and have different views on crime, the Second Amendment, abortion, taxes and minimum wage [from the western portion of the state],” Matt McCaw, spokesman for Greater Idaho, told The Post. “The polarization with the western part of the state is real. When I meet with people and host meetings, there are a lot of complaints about the lack of representation. Eastern Oregon is just very conservative and has its own culture.”
So he and a group of fellow disgruntled Oregonians in the small city of La Pine began to hash out a plan to secede because they no longer felt represented by the liberal lawmakers in the state capital, Salem. The solution: Join Idaho, where the Republican Party is firmly in control.
“Eastern Oregon, where we all live, could get state-level government from Idaho that matches their values,” McCaw said.
It’s a radical proposition that would see nearly two-thirds of Oregon’s 63 million acres (98,000 square miles), but less than 10% of its population, blend into neighboring Idaho.
McCaw, 46, said the movement’s leaders are hoping to attract 15 of the state’s 36 counties and two partial ones to join Idaho.
“We asked the simple question, ‘Would you like your elected leaders to change the border?’ and we’ve won our last six elections with more than 60% of the vote,” McCaw told The Post.
For McCaw, who owns a small math-curriculum company with his wife, and his supporters, the largely rural and conservative residents of Eastern Oregon have very little in common with their progressive urban neighbors in western cities like Portland, Eugene and Bend.
In the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump dominated Eastern Oregon, receiving nearly 80% of the vote in some counties, but President Biden ultimately won 56.5% of votes thanks to liberal cities.
Nearly 64 percent of Idaho residents voted for Trump, with 33 percent voting for Biden.
Oregon’s current governor, Democrat Kate Brown, has a 56% disapproval rating, the worst in the US. Brown, whose term expires next year, has been criticized for doing little to stem rising crime and homelessness in the state’s urban centers since she became governor in 2015.
Some Oregonians are so fed up with spiraling crime, easy access to drugs and homelessness that — for the first time in 40 years — Oregon may see a Republican become governor.
Christine Drazan, 50, a former Oregon House minority leader, has a slight lead over her closest opponent, former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat. Independent Betsy Johnson is also in the race, and some predict she might split the blue vote.
But even the prospect of a Republican governor would not help the situation for those in the eastern part of the state, said Sandie Gilson, who lives in Grant County, one of the first Oregon counties to vote in 2020 to explore joining Idaho.
“Even if we have a Republican governor, the Democrats still have a supermajority in the legislature,” said Gilson, 56, a fifth-generation Oregonian whose gold-miner great-great-grandfather arrived in the state in the 1800s. “It will change nothing.”
Gilson and her husband are small-business owners who say they want to be self-sufficient in a rural region where making an emergency call to police could result in a two-hour wait for help. The couple, who own firearms, say they are not able to defend themselves if faced with an emergency, because of government mandates. Last year, the state enacted a safe storage law that requires the owners of firearms to keep them locked up.
“It would take us more than five minutes to unlock our guns, and in that time a lot could happen,” Gilson told The Post. “The legislature does things that just don’t make sense for us.”
Gilson also said she doesn’t feel safe after Oregon decriminalized personal portions of all drugs in 2020 and, earlier this year, instituted bail reform laws that allows defendants charged with misdemeanors and some felonies to be released without posting bail.
“How does that make me safe in my home?” Gilson said, adding that residents in Eastern Oregon, which has a fraction of the population of the western part of the state, generally get outvoted.
Like Gilson, Mike McCarter, 75, said residents in Eastern Oregon are almost always getting outvoted by the much more populous western region. McCarter, who lives in La Pine and is one of the founders of Greater Idaho, told The Post that eastern residents voted two to one against recreational drug use, but “Western Oregon wanted it, and they carried the vote.”
Still, McCarter insists that the movement for a Greater Idaho is not a political one. “We try to keep the movement away from politics,” he said. “Our movement is a traditional-values type movement of faith — of people who value freedom, independence and self-sufficiency.”
In 2020, Gov. Brad Little of Idaho said he welcomed the move, adding, “They’re looking at Idaho fondly because of our regulatory atmosphere, our values. What they’re interested [in] is they would like to have a little more autonomy, a little more control, a little more freedom and I can understand that.”
Although states have had their borders reconfigured in the past — Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820 — there is no historical precedent for large land masses to leave one state and join another.
Ryan Griffiths, a political science professor at Syracuse University who studies the secession of sovereign states, told The Post that “the bar is pretty high” for state secession in the US.
“This is not the kind of thing that is done unilaterally by people in counties,” Griffiths said. “They have to get the state of Oregon on board and the state of Idaho, and that’s a very high bar.”