Legislation to authorize talks about absorbing several Oregon counties into Idaho is headed to the state Senate.
House lawmakers approved the measure Wednesday, though several Republicans voted against it.
The proposal would add tens of thousands of square miles of rural eastern Oregon into Idaho – something Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) views as a good thing.
“Why not have a conversation about resources such as adding water? Why not have a conversation about their minerals and their timber?” Ehardt asked.
Some of that land, though, is under federal control.
Adding such a wide geographic expense also concerned several legislators.
Rep. Greg Lanting (R-Twin Falls) said he asked everyone in his email contact list whether they support the measure. They rejected it “10 to 1,” he said.
In 2020, Idaho voters fixed the number of legislative districts at 35. Adding such a big chunk of land without many people, Lanting said, would greatly increase the geographical size of these districts – some of which already stretch hundreds of miles from one end to the other.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) also pointed out that these sparsely populated areas have high rates of Medicaid enrollment, meaning it could be an added expense to Idaho taxpayers.
“These are very, very low-income counties, folks, and if they join Idaho, they’re about to lose one of their top sources of revenue, which is weed sales to Idahoans,” Rubel said.
She and other Democrats also joked about Greater Idaho’s characterization as political “refugees” that are ignored by lawmakers in Salem.
Republicans in Oregon hold 37% of Senate seats and 42% of House seats compared to Democrats in Idaho making up 20% and 15% of the Senate and House respectively.
Still, Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale), who represents a district on the current border, said Oregonians’ vote in 2020 to decriminalize most drugs has had ripple effects here.
“It’s caused a lot of problems with our families, our law enforcement. Theft has gone up. It has been horrendous,” Boyle said.
Changing the state’s border would need agreement from the Idaho and Oregon legislatures, as well as Congress.
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