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Greater Idaho: Thinking it Through

May 28th, 2021 by dk

Oregon’s most sparsely populated counties would like to secede from Oregon and join Idaho, where liberals don’t dominate state politics. I can hardly wait to find out what I think about such a plan. (My fingers don’t always give my brain advance warning on matters that don’t impact me urgently.)

In case you haven’t heard, Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman County residents approved ballot measures this month stating their preference to become Idahoans. If other rural counties follow and the plan succeeds, Idaho would become the third largest state in the union, still with one of the smallest populations.

It won’t happen — this much we know for sure, which  is why my brain was comfortably dormant on the issue. The Oregon legislature would have to approve it, which they won’t. Idaho would then have to consent to take the land, the cows, and the people as their own. Then the federal government would have to officially grant the request. Oddly, Rand-McNally has no role in the decision-making process.

A smaller Oregon might not be so bad. Bend would lose most of its metro area to Idaho, which might slow its reckless expansion. Ashland would be a big loss, but it would be offset by the fact that Oregon would no longer share a border with California. There could be other upsides. The Dakotas might merge to match Greater Idaho’s land grab. We never needed two Dakotas.

I doubt many Wasco residents will want to pay Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax, so they’ll still travel west to what’s left of Oregon to buy things. This points to a larger problem for the would-be secessionists. Idaho doesn’t have an economic engine to support a widened girth, unless they develop commercial-scale potato batteries like the ones we made for fifth grade science fairs.

Long story short, rural Oregon residents need us more than we need them. We’d still be able count mounted antlers in John Day or buy quilts in tiny shops, though quilters may migrate to Oregon coast shops instead, where prices could be six percent cheaper.

Sherman County residents would no longer get annual town hall visits from their senators. Town hall meetings in every county is an Oregon thing. They might miss those.

The land itself wouldn’t change in Idaho’s new western annex, except during fire season. Things might change quickly when flames blow through town and they can’t call on the resources of Portlanders to douse things. Roads will start to crumble. Maintenance costs money. But hey, they’d be able to pump their own gas.

Oregon has lost some of its remarkable balance between urban and rural interests. Things have become weighted mercilessly in Portland’s direction. We feel that even in Eugene. Our eastern neighbors have driven that point home like a wayward weaner calf. We need them to stay so they can keep doing that for us.

Here’s my conclusion. (Thanks, fingers.) Oregon will add a sixth Congressional district in 2022. If that new district focuses on non-Portland concerns, we can have a Greater Oregon.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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