Many residents of Maryland, West Virginia and West Virginia were shocked, confused, and angry to hear that a group Maryland Republican legislators had proposed that the three westernmost counties of Maryland be split and join West Virginia. This plan, while certain to fail, some argue that it makes perfect sense.
Three Republican legislators from western Maryland sent letters to West Virginia legislative... [+] leaders stating that it would be mutually beneficial for the states if the counties left Maryland and joined West Virginia. getty
The Key Facts
On Thursday, the five Maryland GOP legislators who had sent letters earlier this month to West Virginia's leaders proposing that the three counties should be switched hands. Three counties, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett are located along West Virginia's northern boundary. They voted heavily in support of former President Donald Trump, as opposed to Maryland, where President Joe Biden won by more than 30 points. The Maryland House Minority Leader Jason Buckel is a Republican from Allegany County who signed one of these letters. He said that he believes there is no chance for the counties to separate and that the letter was intended as a "cry for help" from the region. Buckel and others who signed the letter said that Democrats in the legislature have ignored the rural counties of the state, which are far removed from the state’s population centers. One argument is that the counties would do better in West Virginia because it is almost entirely rural and one of only two states in which Trump won every county.
"Absolutely, with no question, the invitation to come is open," West Virginia's Republican Governor said. Jim Justice spoke at Friday's news conference, which was called only to address Maryland counties. It's certain that you won't regret it, dickens!
The proposal was criticized by many Maryland legislators as a stunt. The Baltimore Sun, the state's largest newspaper also criticized it. In a Friday editorial, the paper stated that "if you want to make yourself irrelevant, you do stunts like these." It noted that at least two counties in Maryland listed for secession receive over 40% of their annual budgets from the state, which is higher than the average 26.8% of Maryland counties. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, dismissed the idea as a publicity stunt.
What to Watch
Already, the lawmakers behind this plan admitted that it was only for attention. If they decide to change their mind and want to make their region part of West Virginia, however, they would need to obtain the approval of both the state legislatures. The final approval would be given by the U.S. Congress.
Although there have been many proposals for states and regions to separate to become neighbors in recent years, none of them have gained much traction. Relatively speaking, the most significant effort was last November when two Oregon counties passed legislation asking local officials for meetings to discuss joining Idaho and breaking away from Oregon. It was the same motivation as the Maryland proposalrural, conservative states that felt alienated by the state’s liberal leadership. The west movement, "Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho," is broader than a handful of counties. It calls on all of Oregon (except its liberal-leaning northwest) and the rural counties of northern California, to join with Idaho in extending its border westward towards the Pacific Ocean. The preliminary vote was not a sign that the effort is likely to succeed.
Washington Post analysis showed that moving three Maryland counties to West Virginia would make West Virginia less Democratic and more white. This is despite how Republican-rich the state is right now.
It would be a strange move for West Virginia to seize territory from another state that has been part of the United States since its past. The counties that make up West Virginia are part of Virginia from the founding of the U.S. until 1863. However, residents of West Virginia didn't support Virginia's decision in 1861 to seize the Union. Despite Virginia's claim to the area, they decided to continue sending representatives to Washington. During the Civil War delegates from the region decided that it was better to seize the state of Virginia. West Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863.
The Washington Post: Republicans from Western Maryland want their counties added to West Virginia.
The Washington Post suggests that moving three counties from Maryland into West Virginia might not have the impact you expect (The Washington Post).
The Baltimore Sun: West Maryland legislators run for the hills
Oregon Counties Vote to Consider Separating From Idaho (Forbes).