ORLANDO — I have relatives who live in eastern Washington State, and they’re ready to move — although not necessarily to give up their current home. What they want is to live in Idaho, not Washington, but they don’t want to have to sell their home, then pack up and move to Idaho.
What they really want is for Idaho to come to them.
If that sounds confusing, let’s just call it what it is: Politics.
Some residents of eastern Washington and Oregon have filed legislation in their home states to let them to break off and join Idaho — in other words, become a part of their neighboring state. Their motive is largely a cry of political frustration — both Washington and Oregon are dominated by Democrats, with a Democratic governor and a state Legislature controlled by the Democratic Party. In both states, elections are often decided by western cities and counties where liberals strongly dominate — Seattle and King County in Washington, Portland and Multnomah County in Oregon.
Residents in eastern Oregon and Washington — and there are far fewer of them than in the cities — want to break away and no longer take marching orders from the state’s progressive lawmakers. But rather than go through the arduous task of trying to create an entirely new state in eastern Washington, and an entirely new state in eastern Oregon, they’ve come up with a better idea: just join Idaho instead. Idaho, with only about 1 million residents, is also one of the nation’s most solidly Republican states. The conservatives in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon who feel ignored by the own state lawmakers assume they’d be much happier with the GOP-dominated Idaho legislature running their lives.
Listening to their often passionate (and angry) push to make this a reality, it got me thinking about how the same debate has played out in my state, Florida, where the situation is reversed: Republicans control the governor’s office and the state Legislature. Would everyone in the Sunshine State be happier if there were two Floridas — a Red Florida and a Blue Florida?
When Was The Last Time A State Got Divided?
The conservative residents of Washington and Oregon, or the liberal residents of Florida, have a tough task in making this dream a reality: State boundaries haven’t been redrawn in this country since the Civil War, when West Virginia was carved out of Virginia in 1863. That decision was quite political: Unionist counties in northwestern Virginia wanted to break away from that state to avoid becoming part of the secessionist movement. It’s no small irony that today, Virginia has become a Blue state with a democratic governor and Democrats in control of the Legislature, and now some conservative Virginia residents want their counties to become part of West Virginia, which is solidly Republican. If you can’t get the political results you want through state and local elections, why not just shift state lines to get the politics you’re looking for?
Getting Congress to agree to these shifts is likely a wild pipe dream, which may be why West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, is encouraging unhappy residents of northwestern Virginia to pack up and move across state lines and become West Virginia residents, giving his state more voters aligned with his party, and doing it the old-fashioned way. Heck, my relatives in Spokane, Washington, could easily move to Idaho, which is just minutes from their city. But who wants to go through the rigmarole of putting your house on the market and then hunting for a new one when Congress can just dub you part of another state?
And how does Florida fit into all this? Glad you asked.
Is There A Push To Make Florida Two States?
The idea of seceding from one state to the other is nothing new, but for the liberal residents of Central and South Florida that don’t like the Republican control of state government, there are no states to connect to. (The northern part of the state could theoretically join Georgia or Alabama, but they’re not the ones unhappy with the status quo.)
So is the section of Florida from the Orlando-Tampa corridor down to Miami and the Keys ready to become our nation’s 51st state?
In October 2014, the city of South Miami passed a resolution calling for Florida to be split into two states, essentially a North Florida and South Florida, with the latter becoming the 51st state. That move followed complaints that Tallahassee wasn’t providing South Florida with proper representation or addressing its concerns — not much different from what the disgruntled residents of eastern Washington and Oregon are saying today.
Depending on how the lines were drawn, the state of South Florida could get democratic strongholds that include Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, while the new North Florida would be a sea of red counties with just two blue areas — the cities of Tallahassee and Gainesville. So in effect, both sides would get what they want: a Florida that’s politically attuned to their needs, interests and concerns, and none of those competitive elections to worry about anymore.
Of course, you know that if this plan ever did pass (it won’t), there would be some conservatives living in South Florida who would want to be a part of the GOP-dominated North Florida — and vice versa. Battles would keep erupting to shift the lines of both states to pick up this or that ideologically stray county.
A key aspect of these movements, I think, is the idea of one party control. Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980, and Oregon, since 1982. Florida hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1994. In both cases, voters who keep getting a political status quo they’re unhappy with think the majority party ignores them or openly scoffs at them. Chances are that frustrated Democrats in Florida wouldn’t feel the same way if they had been living in Washington state for years, while angry Republicans in eastern Washington probably wouldn’t find much to complain about in the GOP’s long reign in Florida.
Florida, Washington and Oregon are all fast-growing states, so it’s possible all three states could become more politically competitive as newcomers keep arriving — but then again, maybe not. Washington may continue to attract liberals and then more liberals, and in Florida, it could be mainly a steady influx of conservatives who move in. Who knows?
Still, it’s clear that whenever you have a presumed one-party state, those in the minority often feel they have only two options: pack up and move, or move the lines of where they live. Just keep in mind: one of those options is much easier than the other.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.