51st state bill a great opportunity for dialogue

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It’s a topic folks in eastern Washington have discussed for decades. At the same time it is a topic that has been scoffed at and criticized by detractors for no doubt just as long. The goal to see Washington split right down the middle into two states, with counties on the east side of the state forming a new state named Liberty, is back in the headlines again. Republican lawmakers Matt Shea, R-Spokane, and Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane, have introduced House Bill 1509, which proposes the addition of Liberty as the 51st state of the Union.

The bill describes the geography of the proposed state as “the western boundary of Liberty follows the crest of the Cascade mountains and the western borders of Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima, and Klickitat counties. The eastern, northern, and southern borders of Liberty are the existing state borders.”

Detractors of the measure almost overwhelmingly say the new state of Liberty would not be self-sufficient and would suffer greatly due to a diminished tax base. A simple Internet search yields countless critics of the proposal, some of whom delve into the examination of Liberty’s economics while others turn their critiques into hit pieces and use their platform to mock the proposal, those who stand behind it and the lawmakers who introduced it.

The Columbia Basin Herald’s Editorial Board isn’t saying that it backs the bill. Nor are we saying we are against it. What we are saying is that a state named Liberty isn’t some wild idea thrown out by some congressmen. The sentiment behind the introduction of House Bill 1509 is the same sentiment that has been discussed by eastern Washingtonians for decades. House Joint Memorial 4003, also introduced by Shea and McCaslin, speaks to a “divergence of cultural and economic values between the western and eastern portions of the state.” State elections illustrate this point year after year. Even in the event of a clean sweep of eastern Washington counties, if a measure or person running for elected office takes western Washington’s three most populous counties – King, Pierce and Snohomish – they will likely take the state.

Folks in eastern Washington know this. They talk about it. They wonder why they should bother voting in certain elections when residents of counties in the western part of the state have more say then they do based on where they reside.

The legislative process will unfold and the fate of a state named Liberty will be decided by the powers that be. If history is any indicator, however, the proposal will fizzle out and not receive the backing it needs in the legislature.

That doesn’t change the sentiment behind the movement. Political discourse tends to turn into mudslinging and an opportunity to degrade. We hope this won’t be the case again. Even if the measure fails, there is a tremendous opportunity at hand for communication lines to be opened and for positive dialogue to be had.

— Editorial Board

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