Bills can make East Side more than a state of mind
Senators introduce legislation splitting Eastern Washington from West

Richard Roesler - Staff writer

OLYMPIA, WA - Feb. 1, 2001-  Saying people in Eastern Washington have less and less in common with their raincoated West Side cousins, two Spokane-area senators are trying to revive an idea that goes back more than a century.

Eastern and Western Washington, they say, should be different states.

"Why do we have to keep living with these mistakes?" said Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient. "It's time to correct them. Our founding fathers looked at strictly a geographical deal that now has changed culturally."

Eastern Washington, he said, is increasingly overshadowed by the West Side hordes. There are more people in King County alone than east of the Cascades. At the statehouse, western lawmakers outnumber easterners by more than three-to-one. The easterners are losing their grip on their own destiny, Morton said.

"Our property rights, our water rights, and on and on," he said. "We're saying `Whoa, we don't want to create a revolution, but we certainly do want our rights.' We want our culture, customs and lifestyle preserved."

So Morton had a bill drawn up -- Senate Concurrent Resolution 8409 -- that would form a joint committee with Oregon. The committee would study the merits of splitting Washington and Oregon down the middle and forming two new states along north-south lines.

In other words, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Salem and Eugene would be in the vastly more populous western state. The inland state -- which would have far fewer people but a lot of sprawling land, crops and open sky -- would include Spokane, Yakima, Walla Walla, Pendleton, Ontario, Bend and Klamath Falls.

Morton said two Eastern Oregon lawmakers are working on a similar proposal.

Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, has a slightly different plan. His bill, Senate Joint Memorial 8002, asks Congress to make Eastern Washington a 51st state. He concedes people shouldn't make plans to get rid of their 50-star flags just yet.

The bill is almost an exact duplicate of one introduced in 1991 by Pullman Sen. Pat Patterson. Patterson later said it was a joke, prompting West Side lawmakers to sponsor their own secession bill, which would have allowed the split provided that Ritzville was the capital and that the Tri-Cities be renamed "Fondaville, among other conditions."

McCaslin says his bill is no joke.

David Nice, a political science professor at Washington State University, warned East Siders should be careful what they wish for.

"It wouldn't be a terribly strong state financially," he said. "We'd be even worse off than we are now."

In 1984, The Spokesman-Review held a contest, asking readers to suggest names for a fictitious 51st state incorporating Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana. The most popular name was Columbia, but with other suggestions including Silverado, Independence, Glacier, Sacajawea and Trinity. Several readers tried variations on combining the state names, including one unfortunate entry, Idawana, that sounded more like a whine than a state.

Complaints about Puget Sound dominance date to at least the 1880s, said University of Washington professor John Findlay. But once boundaries are set, political and cultural inertia make it virtually impossible to change them.

Interestingly, Findlay said, many of the things that Eastern Washington communities take pride in -- lower crime, less traffic, lower taxes and real estate prices -- are familiar refrains in Puget Sound.

"The same complaints that people from Spokane have about Seattle, Seattleites have about Californians," Findlay said.

Taken too far, it can become bigotry, he said. But it's common, he said, for groups to define themselves by who they are not.

"Its a form of self-definition. It helps crystallize those differences," Findlay said. "They know who they are because they're not us."

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