If I lived a half-hour north of where I do, I’d be tempted to put a sign on my house.
I don’t have a single yard sign this election season. With my job, that’s a no-no. But if I lived where I spent much of the day Thursday, I’d want a banner stretching across my property. It would proclaim, "I live in Snohomish County."
Thursday, I went poking around part of the wide area that secessionists claim is now Freedom County. I went looking for any signs of resistance, opposition or anger stemming from the latest developments in the saga of the breakaway movement. The phantom county has a new "sheriff," you know, a fellow who goes by the name Fnu Lnu.
I didn’t find any obvious opposition. I didn’t find any Freedom County supporters, either. Mostly, I found sensible people, some of whom had a sympathetic grasp of the issues that gave birth to the new county notion in the first place. Many of them were laughing before I could finish my question, "What do you think of Freedom County?"
No one seemed frightened, though.
In 1995, John Stokes, a Freedom County "founding father" who had moved to Montana, said he had no doubt the new county would be established "by peaceful petitions or whatever means are necessary."
"We can make this easy or do it hard," Stokes said.
I find that language frightening, not funny.
Richard Weese, who owns Faye’s Country Cafe in Silvana along with his wife, Faye, allowed petitions for the new county to be gathered at the popular eatery, but said, "I never signed one myself."
"I never fully understood what they wanted to do," Weese said. "I know several people who signed the petition and now wish they hadn’t. They thought it was going to come to a vote."
Supporters claim the new county was born five years ago, out of anger with Snohomish County government and land-use policies, when approximately 12,000 residents signed petitions to create it. The state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature didn’t have to create new counties despite the signatures.
"I know the frustrations a lot of people see," Weese said. "I have a good friend who bought 20 acres at the end of a road, and it was going to cost him a million dollars to fix the road. But I don’t know that another county is the answer."
At Silvana Mercantile, store owner Ray Bloom echoed Weese’s gripes about land use. "If a dairyman has to file for a permit to plow a field, give me a break," Bloom said. Yet he’s seen nothing from the Freedom County folks to indicate that changes are coming.
"If they want to lend some credibility, they have to have real names and they have to disseminate some information," said Bloom, who has heard nothing from so-called Freedom County.
Out on Norman Road, on the flat land west of Silvana, Mike Ashley was tending to Holsteins on a farm owned by his father-in-law, Luther Moe.
Ashley is chairman of the Snohomish County agricultural advisory board. He had one interaction with upstart county backers, five years ago. "They pulled in my driveway and asked me to sign their petition. I told them I was not a supporter and that the road was that way," he said.
Ashley finds it curious they’ve never asked him about issues that concern farmers. "You would think one of them would want to know," he said.
"This Freedom County stuff is political posturing, not government," Ashley said. "You don’t fix property rights issues by forming a new county. You go to the courthouse, go to the hearings, go get involved."
At a home along Pioneer Highway, Kathy Moore and Joan Beals laughed when asked if they consider themselves Freedom County residents.
"How can they just do this? Snohomish County, that’s who we pay our taxes to; my husband wrote the check last week," said Moore, who lives on a dairy farm.
"There are lots of problems with any governmental system, but I don’t think seceding from the county is a solution," Beals said.
I took a drive along 140th Street NW, a two-lane road at the northern edge of the Tulalip Reservation. If you buy that there’s a Freedom County, the road is its southern border. Driving east, I took in what was supposedly Freedom County turf to the north and Snohomish County to the south. It all looked the same, woodsy and ablaze with fall color.
I had to chuckle at a red-and-white sign, on the Freedom side of the road, warning "No Shooting by Order of the County Council." If Freedom County officials ever get around to signs, I doubt they’ll put up that one.
With markers like that on the landscape, it’s no wonder people are confused.
There’s a waterfront home for sale on Shoecraft Lake, inside Freedom County territory. I called Michael Jake, the Windermere Real Estate agent listed on the sign, to ask whether prospective buyers ever raise the county issue.
"It would be a far cry if I could tell you what the heck you’re talking about," Jakes said. "I’ve never had it come up as an objection. I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard of it. I guess they need more exposure."
Maybe they need less exposure. Ashley, the dairy farmer, called the whole story "a media circus." "It’s a great story because it’s pretend," he said.
I wish that were true. Freedom County, nonexistent though it may be, makes me uneasy.
For reassurance, I stopped at the Snohomish County Fire District 14 station house at Warm Beach. It, too, is north of the Freedom County line, something Lt. Christian Davis didn’t know until I showed him a map.
Davis, the fire department spokesman, said, "As far as we’re concerned, we’re Snohomish County until we’re informed otherwise. And bottom line, we work for our community."
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