A ballot initiative to carve California into three states reminds us of another idea that surfaced three years ago in eastern Oregon and Washington. It’s goal was to make those largely rural regions a part of Idaho, whose state government is more agriculture-friendly.
Idaho leaders have staked the state’s future on agriculture, while many Washington and Oregon leaders appear to be more interested in other, more urbane pursuits. When they do take note of agriculture, they tend to focus only on certain niches instead of the overall industry.
The proposals to redraw the borders of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho are efforts to gain more recognition from statewide office holders.
In California, a state with nearly 40 million people, the urban areas have an overwhelming amount of political clout in Sacramento. Farmers and ranchers find themselves ignored or treated as second-class Californians. Issues important to them often take a backseat to urban concerns, because that’s where the votes and the lobbyists are.
While politicians are expected to represent their districts, they also have a duty to learn about and represent the state as a whole. What’s good for Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego is important, but not to the detriment of the other parts of the state — and vice versa. A statewide perspective means keeping the interests of all Californians in mind.
It’s the same way here in Oregon. Residents of our side of the state, and our rural neighbors to the north in Washington, depend on farming, ranching and timber, and are also underrepresented in Salem and Olympia. Geography doesn’t help — the fact that the Cascade Range splits the states makes the problem even worse. Westside politicians rarely make the trek over the mountains to the eastside — unless they are campaigning for office. If they win, eastside interests usually take a backseat to westside priorities.
Proponents say splitting California or adding eastern Washington and Oregon to Idaho would provide a bigger voice for all in the new states. We doubt it.
Drawing more lines on a map isn’t needed. What’s needed is politicians who take the time to learn about the rural areas of their states and look out for the interests of all citizens, not just those in their home districts with the biggest wallets.