A proposal to expand Idaho to include parts of eastern Oregon is getting its day in the state legislature.
Idaho state lawmakers introduced a bill that asks its legislature to begin talks with Oregon’s state legislature about moving Idaho’s border west to include some eastern Oregon counties. At a hearing last month in front of the Idaho House State Affairs Committee, proponents of the boundary change answered questions.
“To actually formalize it now, I think it’s time and it’s the next right step,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill and represents a district that includes Idaho Falls. “I feel like we’ve done more than our due diligence.”
Ehardt admitted the proposal is a long shot — changing state boundaries requires approval from the impacted state legislatures plus Congress — but adding eastern and southern Oregon counties to Idaho could bring in more than $170 million a year, assuming Idaho keeps Oregon’s weight-mile tax on road freight in the area, a study from the conservative think tank Claremont Institute found.
“This is not going to hurt Idaho, and if it was, I don’t want to do something that would hurt Idaho,” Ehardt said.
The Claremont study says eastern and southern Oregon are a drain on Oregon’s budget because the Portland area carries most of the state’s tax burden, according to an excerpt of the study shared before publication with the Deseret News. The study didn’t estimate the cost of purchasing parts of Oregon, including state assets and debts, because that figure is negotiable. More than half of Oregon’s land mass is owned by the federal government.
Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican who represents a district that includes Midvale, which is just east of the Idaho-Oregon border, co-sponsored the bill and said while introducing it that it would reduce the number of Oregonians who moved to Idaho for its conservative politics.
“This would allow people in Oregon to stay where they live instead of moving over here, increasing our traffic, converting our farmland, which has always worried me,” she said.
Oregon decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs in 2021, which Boyle said was another concern. “By moving that border way on the other side, at least the drugs will be that far away,” she said.
As of last month, the campaign to redraw state borders to make “Greater Idaho” included 11 eastern Oregon counties where voters have approved ballot measures signaling their interest in leaving the state. Earlier proposals were more aggressive, including counties in California and Washington as well. The votes are symbolic but show residents in the state’s rural, conservative east are open to joining a state that aligns more closely with their politics.
“The people of eastern Oregon are tired of the very liberal policies of Portland and Eugene imposed upon them,” said Mark Simmons, a Republican who previously served as Oregon House speaker. “The policies they enact get pushed upon the rest of the state, like it or not.”
Idaho’s boundaries were fluid before statehood. Present-day Idaho was part of the Oregon Territory in 1848, and the southeast corner of what would become Idaho was included in the boundaries of the state of Deseret proposed the following year. During part of the Civil War, Idaho Territory included parts of present-day Montana and Wyoming. Idaho gradually took its shape as neighboring states were admitted into the Union — first Oregon in 1859, then Montana in 1889 and Washington in 1889.
“There’s nothing sacred about state boundaries,” Simmons said.
State governments in Idaho and Oregon are both controlled by a single party — Republicans in Idaho, and Democrats in Oregon. Polarization has made single-party states, known as government trifectas, the norm, and just 11 states today have divided governments, including Arizona and Nevada.