State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, gestures as he gives a speech in front of the proposed Liberty state flag, Feb. 15, at the Capitol in Olympia, during a rally seeking to split Washington state into two states and questioning the legality of Washington’s I-1639 gun-control measure. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, gestures as he gives a speech in front of the proposed Liberty state flag, Feb. 15, at the Capitol in Olympia, during a rally seeking to split Washington state into two states and questioning the legality of Washington’s I-1639 gun-control measure. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Editorial: Splitting state takes liberties with representation

Frustrated by state politics, two state lawmakers are back with their bid to split the state in two.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Our first question: Where are we going to put another star on the U.S. flag if a pair of Spokane Valley Republicans get their wish and are allowed to create a 51st state from the 20 easternmost counties of Washington?

Concentric circles? Betsy Ross made a circle work when she had to arrange 13 stars on a field of blue, but these days circles of stars on flags come off as kinda European. And who wants that?

There are, of course, other more practical problems and issues to consider with the return of the proposal by Spokane Valley Republicans Rep. Matt Shea and Rep. Bob McCaslin to split the sheets with the Evergreen State — along the dotted line of the Cascade Crest — and create the state of Liberty.

There’s even a nifty Liberty state flag with an osprey, its wings outstretched across a field of blue with the motto, “Liberty, Founded in Truth.”

House Bill 1509 seeks the approval of the Washington Legislature and governor — and a majority of the state’s voters — to petition Congress to create the new state. Throughout the nation’s history, similar efforts — not counting the states that seceded in the Civil War — have been staged in more than 30 of the 50 states. (Betsy, we’re going to need more stars.)

In most of those partition attempts the urge to unmerge has grown out of political dissatisfaction with existing political leadership. Likewise for Shea and McCaslin who believe that a Seattle-centric political system and its Democratic majority is forcing its will upon rural Republicans in Eastern Washington on issues including gun rights, taxes and more.

Shea, who has made past attempts to create the state of Liberty in 2015 and 2017, offers as proof the passage of Initiative 1639, through which state voters — with 59 percent voting yes — approved a slate of firearms safety legislation, including increasing the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

Speaking to a sparsely attended rally in the rotunda of the state Capitol on Feb. 15, Shea referenced that vote — and the claimed split of support among counties east and west of the crest — as justification.

“We’re not going to live in a state that takes away our firearms,” Shea said. “The only solution left is a 51st state.”

Except that Shea’s east-west partition largely ignores the actual county-by-county results for the initiative, just as his 2017 proposal ignored the results of the 2016 presidential election. Shea’s partition would deny Liberty’s statehood to seven counties in southwest Washington where significant majorities — 70 percent in Lewis County — voted against I-1639. And, significantly, Shea would have to admit both Spokane and Whitman counties where fifth-columnists approved the gun safety measure by 51 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

Regarding taxes, it’s been shown repeatedly that most of the state’s rural counties pay less in state tax revenue than they receive for a range of state services and benefits, while counties with larger populations in Western Washington dole out more in taxes than they receive. A 2012 survey by The Evergreen State College showed, for example, that King County generates 42 percent of the state’s tax revenues but receives less than 26 percent in benefits; meanwhile Spokane County received $1.35 in services for every $1 in revenue, while Ferry County in northeast Washington received $3.16 back for every $1 it paid, The Spokesman-Review reported in 2017.

Freed from the onerous yoke of Washington state, Liberty’s legislature would still have to tax its citizens for its own state government and agencies, roads, courts, law enforcement, parks, schools, colleges and Washington State — excuse us — Liberty State University.

Have Shea and McCaslin looked into the startup costs for a state these days?

We get it; being in the minority is frustrating. That frustration has only increased with the voters’ decision to elect Democratic majorities to the state House and Senate, along with a Democratic governor, not to mention two Democratic senators and seven Democratic House members to three Republicans in Congress.

But the politics of partition won’t deliver fairer representation. We could divide Washington’s 39 counties into individual states, and we’d still have to divide those 39 new states into their own states, as was attempted in the mid-’90s with the bid to cleave Freedom County from Snohomish County.

The state’s rural communities are largely Republican, just as much of Western Washington prefers to elect Democrats. But our cities and counties, even where regions of red and blue predominate, are mingled with communities of purple that cannot and should not be divided into separate enclaves based on party identification.

If the desire is to assure fair representation — of people and ideas — then each party has to make its best case to the voters. The residents of Shea’s and McCaslin’s district — and all rural areas of Washington — deserve a voice in Olympia; but not a separate state.

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