As voters demanded, Jefferson County, Ore., commissioners have explored the possibility of the county leaving Oregon and joining Idaho, along with other Oregon counties east of the Cascades.
The county’s voters in November passed a measure that requires commissioners to discuss the issue twice a year.
“There’s a million questions, for sure,” said Kelly Simmelink, Jefferson County Commission chair.
Chris Taylor of the Move Oregon’s Border campaign argued why it’s worthwhile to tackle those million questions. “Unfortunately, the boundary between Oregon and Idaho is really outdated because it doesn’t match the cultural boundary between people who like Portland and Salem’s leadership and people who don’t.”
Despite any support or votes in Oregon counties, the idea would need the approval of the legislatures in Oregon and Idaho. If a portion of California is included, that legislature would have to approve the idea too. Approval by Congress would also be required.
The Move Oregon’s Border campaign suggests agricultural counties in Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon divorce themselves from metropolitan areas, and marry more like-minded Idaho.
“The value of the United States having multiple states instead of just one big state is that it allows differentiation, different laws in different states,” Taylor said. “And hopefully those state boundaries can reflect actual boundaries between groups that want one kind of law and other groups that want another kind of law.”
Oregonians who don’t like new laws that decriminalized drugs, Taylor suggests, may feel more at home in Idaho. He contends Idaho has lower taxes, less regulation and lower unemployment.
The campaign proposes a border along the Deschutes River, which splits the county, leaving Warm Springs and Camp Sherman in Oregon. Bend would stay in Oregon, but Redmond and Terrebonne would become part of Jefferson County. La Pine would be in Idaho, but Sunriver would remain in Oregon.
Simmelink raised concerns the boundary shift could disrupt long nurtured relationships.
“Our tribal interactions, and tri-county interactions. There’s so much we do between the tri counties here, whether it be health care, mutual aid in law enforcement,” Simmelink said.
“It just seems very complicated with irrigation water coming out of Wickiup and going through Bend,” said Commissioner Wayne Fording.
The proposed state line puts Jefferson County’s irrigation water source, Wickiup Reservoir, in Greater Idaho, then flowing through Deschutes County, Ore., before coming to Jefferson County.
“I know a lot of our ag community has worked on water issues for years that they just recently got an agreement on, and I don’t know how those would change,” Fording said.
Jefferson County resident Kim Schmith worries about people with professional licenses in Oregon that Idaho might not recognize. “In the medical community, this is being talked about a lot. There would be an exodus of all those people who need to be licensed. They may or may not leave our county, but they certainly would not be able to work in our county.”
And what about the county name? Idaho already has a Jefferson County. Jefferson County, Oregon, would need to change its name under this new union.
Through all the uncertainty, Jefferson County commissioners want to make one thing clear: This is not their idea.
“We’re not the ones to carry the torch and do the work,” Fording said.
“I don’t think as a county commissioner that we have any position,” said Commissioner Mae Huston. “It was a ballot measure that was passed by the voters, and we’re waiting to see how it’s going to work out.”
The measure voters passed in November requires another meeting in August to discuss the issue. Union County — the only other Oregon county to pass a similar measure — has already held the first of three meetings. The Move Oregon’s Border campaign is working to get similar measures on the ballots this May in Malheur, Baker, Grant, Lake, Harney and Sherman counties.
Simmelink says proponents of a Greater Idaho didn’t need a ballot measure to get commissioners to discuss the idea. “I’ll be honest with you, they could have addressed this like an agenda item at each county.”