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Moving the border: Group seeks to merge eastern Washington into Idaho

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | March 3, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Elliott Goodrich wants to live in Idaho.

But as an eastern Washington farmer, just outside the Moses Lake city limits, he notes it’s not all that easy to simply move his farm — fields and all — to Idaho.

“I can’t pick up my farm and move someplace else,” he said. “So, instead of us moving to Idaho, we want Idaho to move to us.”

Goodrich, who is also a member of the Moses Lake School Board, along with several other Moses Lake and Warden area farmers, recently founded the Committee for Liberty, a group which aims to help eastern Washington “break free from Olympia” by moving the Idaho-Washington state line west and merging much of the eastern part of Washington into Idaho.

“Western Washington and eastern Washington are two completely different places. The problems they face are different from the problems we have; their economy is different, their lifestyle is different, and their values are different. And so what works over there doesn’t work here,” he said.

Goodrich also said Idaho’s laws and regulations would make it easier for farmers like him to do business — a point echoed by BFI Native Seeds LLC founder Jerry Benson, who has donated $2,000 to the committee, according to data from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

“The rule of Olympia is very antagonistic to the quality of life,” Benson said. “We just don’t think the same.”

Benson said as a lifelong Washingtonian born and raised here, he doesn’t really want to split the state. But, he said a lack of respect from west side politicians for any way of living that isn’t their own makes it increasingly difficult to live together in this state.

“It isn’t that Idaho’s laws are so much better, but that Olympia’s philosophy is much worse,” he said. “I have always been a fan of the diversity of Washington, but that has seriously deteriorated.”

Goodrich said moving the state line would be politically achievable in ways creating a new state in eastern Washington — the dream of the Liberty State movement — would not, since it would mean creating two new U.S. senators who, as likely Republicans, would alter the balance in the U.S. Senate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a political non-starter, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get,” he said. “We’re just moving a state boundary. Not creating new senators, not creating a new governorship, not creating new laws or a bureaucracy.”

In fact, Goodrich said, eastern Washington is already closer to Idaho “politically, socially and economically” and the Gem State’s laws are a better fit for the economy of eastern Washington. He also said eastern Washington’s industries are at “a distinct competitive disadvantage” because of laws and rules passed in Olympia.

Among the committee’s concerns are a recent state Supreme Court ruling on overtime pay on farms, the creation of a carbon tax scheme, proposed bans on gasoline-powered vehicles, a proposed capital gains tax and Gov. Jay Inslee’s handling of the closure of many small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just comes down to the basic idea that government needs to represent the people that it’s designed to serve, and ours doesn’t,” he explained. “We need to have a government that does, and Idaho’s would.”

However, Goodrich doesn’t expect anything to happen quickly, and much of the work of the Committee for Liberty will involve promoting the plan, finding supporters and raising money for what will be — if it gains traction — a very long process eventually requiring congressional approval.

Among the things to be handled would be divvying up Washington state’s debts, pensions for retired state workers, and other long-term liabilities, Goodrich said.

“We’re going to advocate for the process to start,” he said. “We’re under no illusions that this is going to be quick or easy. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of money, but it is something that fundamentally needs to happen.”

Goodrich said the residents of western Washington should be supportive of ceding the eastern portion of the state to Idaho, noting many eastern Washington legislators have fought hard and stopped proposed tax increases, spending plans and other legislation supported by a majority of western state residents.

“I think the people in Seattle who do want to see a progressive agenda should support this,” he said. “We’ll get out of their way and they can do as they please and hopefully they will let us do as we please as well.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.