During the pandemic, Matt McCaw played a lot of golf. It was one of the few things he could do under Oregon’s pandemic lockdown to spend time with family and friends. During one of these golf trips, one of McCaw’s friends told him about a trip to Boise. In Boise, he’d attended church in a congregation of hundreds and spent time in restaurants.
For McCaw, who was homeschooling his seven children and trying to maintain his small business, this seemed like heaven.
McCaw lives in Eastern Oregon. While Oregon has voted Democrat in presidential elections since 1988, Eastern Oregon has been more conservative than the western part of the state. The current makeup of the Oregon State Legislature reflects a left-leaning majority (58% in the House and 58% in the Senate), but in 2020 each house had a democrat supermajority (over 60% in each chamber).
When McCaw looked at his state government, he didn’t see a government that represented him and his interests. He felt alone and isolated so he decided to get involved. McCaw found his community in the Greater Idaho movement.
What is Greater Idaho?
The Greater Idaho movement seeks to move the border between Oregon and Idaho to incorporate 15 counties in eastern Oregon into Idaho to supply eastern Oregonians with a more conservative government.
McCaw sees a lot of similarities in the culture, the politics and even the landscape of Eastern Oregon and Idaho. McCaw believes moving the border would give him and other eastern Oregonians a more representative government. One that better aligns with their values.
“For these folks in Eastern Oregon that have basically had no political voice, no representation, no ability to have their values heard and understood and policy enacted that supports it, they would go from not having that for 40 years to all of a sudden being in a majority that does understand their way of life, that does share their values, and does have the political power to put policy into place that Eastern Oregonians want,” McCaw said. “So for eastern Oregonians, it would be huge.”
Since Mike McCarter, president of Citizens for Greater Idaho, organized the movement in March 2021, eleven counties in Oregon voted they wanted their elected officials to look into moving the border. Both states introduced legislation to begin talking about moving the border, with the Idaho house passing this resolution.
“We are getting a lot of attention and rightfully so because we are making a ton of progress,” McCaw said. “There are lots of movements that kind of come and go where people get upset with their government and they say ‘we want to make a new state’ or ‘we want to do this or that’. People get upset, they rally, they say ‘let’s do this’ and then they kind of fade away.”
There are five steps required for moving the border between two states:
— Rural Oregonians collect signatures to get greater Idaho on their county ballot or convince county commissioners to put a question on the ballot
— Oregon counties vote (non-binding) to help show state legislators that eastern Oregon wants to join Idaho
— Oregon and Idaho Legislatures invite each other to consider the issue by passing a “memorial” or resolution
— Oregon and Idaho leaders negotiate to ratify an interstate compact that sets the terms of the border relocation that includes which assets and liabilities become Idaho’s
— Congress approves the interstate compact
McCaw said there is historical precedence for moving state lines. Washington and Oregon adjusted their border along the Columbia river in 1958.
Benefits to Idaho
McCaw cited several potential benefits of Greater Idaho impacting Idahoans.
He said the political landscape would not change much. The counties in Eastern Oregon are as conservative if not more conservative than many of the counties in Idaho. McCaw said these counties voted 75% Republican in the 2022 U.S. House races with Idaho voting 67% Republican.
McCaw said that eastern Oregonians and Greater Idaho would also help the state financially.
“Idaho has a much more business-friendly economy than Oregon does, has much lower taxes than Oregon does, so for eastern Oregon counties getting into this new governance would allow those economies to take off and surge,” McCaw said. “It would have the potential to add all sorts of new tax revenues to the state of Idaho.”
If legislatures decided to move the border to the proposed location, Idaho would grow by approximately 400,000. It would also add 63% of Oregon’s total land mass.
“Anybody who lives in Idaho knows you are a fast-growing state because people want the governance that your state is offering,” McCaw said. “You have all of these left-leaning states on the coast (Oregon, Washington, California) and you have people flooding out of those places to get to Idaho right now.”
McCaw acknowledged the struggles the state has had with increasing growth but suggested that Greater Idaho would hopefully lessen these growing pains.
“This would give Idaho a lot more room for those people to spread out and it would take the pressure off the western part of Idaho that is currently absorbing all this migration,” McCaw said. “It would give them a lot more room to put all these people that want Idaho governance.
The Idaho House of Representatives passed the necessary joint memorial to begin discussions with the Oregon Legislature to move the border.
“For quite a few years now, eastern Oregon has been quite unhappy with their state — Portland seems to run everything there — and they have been asking for quite some time if they could move the border and become part of Idaho,” Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle said in an Idaho Capital Sun article.
Governor Brad Little saw the appeal of the movement but said that it still had a long way to go. He brought up concerns on how the population growth would impact the makeup of the state legislature.
“Unless we amend the constitution, the size of a legislative district is going to go to 70 or 80,000,” Little said. “People in Idaho, we’re used to have an access to our legislators. This is going to reduce access to the legislators unless we amend the constitution.”
Even though the joint memorial passed the Idaho House of Representatives, some legislators said it was a low priority to more urgent issues such as property taxes or parental rights in education.
“It’s an interesting idea, but honestly in my humble opinion, I believe we have a lot more urgent issues to discuss and talk about in the legislature,” said Sen. Doug Ricks.
Others expressed concern about the overall feasibility of the idea.
“I voted against the joint memorial because it represents an unlikely outcome, and in the meantime, it uses state resources to continue pursuing the issue,” said Rep. Britt Raybould. “In order for a state’s border to move it requires three things: A change to Oregon’s constitution, a change to Idaho’s constitution and approval by the U.S. Congress. The likelihood of any one of these things, let alone all three, happening is almost nonexistent.”
The joint memorial sits before the Senate State Affairs committee awaiting a hearing.
You can learn more about the Greater Idaho movement on its website.