Plan proposes splitting Washington in two - Sponsors cite ideological divide for need for new state
If Sen. Bob Morton has his way, he'll soon be a resident and lawmaker in the 51st state of the United States.
To Morton, the Cascade Mountains are more than just the dividing
line between wet and dry Washington. They are the indisputable wall
between political ideologies that only became more apparent during
the recent contested governor's race.
Nine other Republican senators have signed on in support. Similar measures have been introduced in past years without success.
"It's not sour grapes," Morton said. "It's common sense. People who think alike should be united."
Morton said Eastern Washington has its own distinct culture, lifestyle and agriculture-driven economy. And he says growth development restrictions and other regulations imposed by Olympia put a stranglehold on his area.
But even if the measure passes the Senate and House and is signed by the governor, the U.S. Constitution says that Congress, not the president alone, has the power to create a new state.
Morton acknowledged the challenge of anything coming of the measure, but said "it's worth every effort."
Other Republicans also noted that because about one-third of the state's voters reside in Washington's largest, and overwhelmingly Democratic, county -- King County -- that their constituents' voices are overshadowed by their western neighbors.
Bitterness over the red-blue divide in the state only increased in November's governor's race. Eastern Washington overwhelmingly voted in support of Republican candidate Dino Rossi, only to see Democrat Christine Gregoire pull ahead after a third count.
"Look at the election results. We elected Rossi. King County elected Gregoire," said Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley.
The measure will have a public hearing before the Government Operations and Elections Committee Tuesday morning.
Committee Chair Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyalllup, said he has no plans on moving the measure out of committee. He said he decided to hold a public hearing because it was "an opportunity to learn from each other."
"This is purely an opportunity for us to engage in a conversation about why they do perceive Western Washington the way they do," he said. "I hope something positive comes from this. In no way am I really serious about dividing the state of Washington."
But McCaslin said that there's no way to escape domination from the west coast without becoming a whole new state.
"I believe from my heart, mind and soul that Eastern Washington could survive beautifully without Western Washington," he said. "And I hope Western Washington feels just as I do, that we'd love to be on our own."
One Democrat from Western Washington does, and he's the lone member of his party listed as a sponsor on the measure.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he believes Western Washington would benefit from a split in the state.
"I feel east and west have common cause here," he said.
While recognizing the political divide that angers the east side, Kline said financially, Western Washington would be better off without them because he said that side of the state gets more than its share of tax revenue.
"I would like as much as possible for revenue generated in Western Washington to stay in Western Washington," he said.
But other Democrats disagree.
"I like the fact that we have the diversity of the west side and east side and the urban and rural. That makes it a stronger state," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. "The ideological differences that (Morton's) talking about are present everywhere, within every county, within every neighborhood."
Sen. Dan Swecker, a Republican from Rochester who has signed on in support even though he represents Western Washington, said the measure is "a little bit tongue-in-cheek."
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