Commentary: New Attempt at 51st State Has About as Much Chance as Old One


It's baaaack.

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Terminator movie, the proposal to split Washington at the Cascade Crest and create a new state out of the eastern half has returned to the Legislature.

This despite the fact that its prime sponsor in recent years, Rep. Matt Shea, is now former Rep. Matt Shea. The issue has been picked up by Shea's sort-of successor, freshman Rep. Rob Chase.

(We qualify the description because Chase technically was elected to the other House seat in the Spokane Valley's 4th District when he and incumbent Rep. Bob McCaslin did a switcheroo on the final day of filing. But Chase, a Libertarian turned Republican and county treasurer turned legislator, is the newbie resulting from Shea's decision not to run.)

This session's effort repeats the double-barreled attempt from 2019-20, with a proposed resolution for the Legislature to ask the president and both houses of Congress to create a new state of Liberty, plus a bill that would set up 15 "transition committees" on everything from revenue and taxes to health care and agriculture to guide the establishment of that new state.

The latter has an interesting quirk, because each committee would have four legislators, one each selected by the leaders of each party in each House. They must also have two East Siders and two West Siders.

The problem with such a scheme, at least as the current Legislature is constituted, is that after the House speaker filled two committees, and the Senate majority leader named himself to one committee, they would run out of East Side Democrats. So the Republicans would be naming only East Side members to the remaining committees and Democrats, only West Siders.

This would be a real concern except for a few minor things: The Legislature would have to pass a resolution asking Congress to split the state and the bill to set up the committees, both of which must start with a hearing in the House State Government Committee.

That's not gonna happen, Committee Chairman Javier Valdez said.

"I'm just not interested in giving Matt Shea's legislation any more publicity," Valdez said. "He's gone, but it's his legislation."

Although he represents a Seattle district, Valdez was born and raised in Moses Lake and said he thinks splitting the state would be disastrous. Eastern Washington "would crumble," he said.

Chase points out that he has been a supporter of dividing the state even before Shea, and mentioned it in a congressional campaign nearly 20 years ago. He even had 51st State commemoratives struck out of silver. While it is the Shea-crafted legislation he sponsored, Chase said he's just trying to prompt more discussion.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be called Liberty. It could be called Eastern Washington," he said.

That could cause a problem for renaming institutions of higher learning. Eastern Washington University would be OK, but WSU would become Eastern Washington State University. And would it be Central Eastern Washington University or Eastern Central Washington University?

Changing the name could be a snub for the avid Liberty Staters who, over the last several years, created a state flag, worked on a constitution and drafted resolutions for county commissions to pass asking for the state split. But their fervor may be waning, considering their website carries copies of 2-year-old legislation, their list of "upcoming events" stops in February 2020 and their "news" page is topped by a Liberty State Radio podcast from last May titled "Final Episode — God Bless Liberty State!"

It's still possible to buy a variety of 51st State swag from the Liberty State Foundation website, from pins to T-shirts to camouflage ball caps to webcam security covers with the would-be state's branding. You can get a good deal on a Liberty State flag, which features a wing-spread osprey and the motto "Liberty, Founded in Truth" — arguably falling somewhere between premature to ironic. It's been marked down $5 to $25.51.

The foundation still exists to collect donations and money from the swag — Shea's old campaign treasurer is the registered agent — but it would be hard for Chase to show a groundswell of support based on the website.