WASHINGTON DC — In some U.S. states, the sharp political rift between Republicans and Democrats is also a geographical divide in which political power is controlled by liberal progressives in heavily populated urban areas. This has left some rural conservatives groups tired of their powerless minority status and looking to secede, not from the country but from the states where they reside.
The Western Maryland Initiative is the latest such attempt, joining efforts by groups in Colorado, Michigan and California to attempt to secede from their own states and either form a new state or join with a neighboring state that better reflects their political views.
Scott Strzelczyk, one of the leaders of the Maryland secession group, says conservatives in the rural western areas of his state adamantly oppose new taxes, environmental regulations and gun control measures that are being imposed on them by the liberal majority in the eastern cities that control the political process.
“Ultimately we just feel that the people aren’t represented and that we could have a government that better represents us if we were to split off and form our own states,” said Strzelczyk.
The secessionist group in Northern Colorado has a similar list of grievances and virtually the same rural/urban divide. Conservative activist and Rancher Bob Beauprez says that in politics today there seems to be no room for compromise, so perhaps secession is the only way to ensure that minorities have a political voice.
“If we are going to continue to have these ideological battles that end up maybe not moving in a very positive direction and ending in good government, just different government, maybe we ought to just go our separate ways. Why don’t you run your state and we’ll run ours,” said Beauprez.
Even if these initiatives ultimately fail, Beauprez says they are energizing the conservative movement. In Colorado, voters recently ousted two Democratic state lawmakers in a recall election launched over their support for stricter gun laws.
The U.S. constitution does allow for the formation of new states, but it requires the approval of both the state legislature and Congress. It has been done in the past, such as when West Virginia broke off from Virginia during the Civil War, but it is rare.
Since 1959, when Hawaii and Alaska became the 49th and 50th states admitted to the union, the United States has not added any new states. Undaunted, Strzelczyk says it may be time to radically re-draw the map to create hundreds of smaller states. “This way we have choices and all these diverse people have ways to live together harmoniously without fighting each other, without brother fighting brother and neighbor fighting neighbor all the time. And that’s really ultimately what I wanted, just to be left alone by government to live my life.”
Many experts say it is unlikely that Congress would approve any new states, especially if it means changing the current balance of power. Michael Trinklein, the author of Lost States, a book about past movements to create new states in the U.S., says conservative state secessionists should learn from history and partner up with state movements in liberal-dominated territories like Puerto Rico.
This is how Alaska, considered a liberal stronghold in the 1950s, joined with then-conservative Hawaii to gain statehood for both without altering the national balance of power. “Alaska nor Hawaii would have been added had they not come in together. You basically need a dancing partner and that has long been true in American politics,” points out Trinklein.
Still, he says most state secession efforts in history have failed. Strzelczyk says he knows his goal will be difficult to reach, and maybe even nearly impossible, but for frustrated and isolated rural conservatives it may be the only option left.