Md. secessionists: Have you considered West Virginia?

Those who can't take Maryland's one-party dominance are free to leave

September 18, 2013|Thomas F. Schaller

Led by 49-year-old Carroll County resident Scott Strzelczyk, some residents from Maryland's five westernmost counties want to secede from the Old Line State and start their own, fifty-first state.

Here's an alternative suggestion for the folks who've aligned themselves with the Western Maryland Initiative: Just move to West Virginia. It would be a simpler solution for everyone involved.

For starters, Maryland-haters wouldn't need to orchestrate and execute secession; all they'd have to do is pack their stuff and drive no more than two hours to reach the state line. Nor would they need to worry about the logistics of forming a new state, including how to constitutionalize their government, how and from whom to collect revenues, or how to gain admission to the Union.

And all Americans would continue to benefit from the convenient math of having exactly 50 states, which helps with remembering how many total U.S. senators there are, or computing what percentage of states have, say, legalized gay marriage or concealed carry laws. (You just take the number of states and multiply by two!)

The core of Mr. Strzelczyk's complaint seems to be that Maryland is a one-party Democratic state where non-Democrats don't get represented. "If we have more states, we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along," he says.

He makes a fair point. Maryland is indeed a blue state, and has proven to be a leader nationally even among liberal Democratic states on issues like gay marriage and gun control. And, as I have discussed previously in this space, the newly-gerrymandered 6th Congressional District was clearly drawn by Democrats with Democratic motives in mind.

So it's understandable that tea party-affiliated Western Marylanders like Mr. Strzelczyk feel a bit displaced, or at least ignored. But notice we don't hear Democrats from Austin, Texas, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or other liberal oases agitating for secession from their overwhelmingly red states.

And why call for secession now? Western Maryland Initiative supporters claim they're upset with Annapolis, but it's not like the state suddenly turned blue: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was the state's only Republican governor in nearly a half-century; by 2016, the Democrats will have held both U.S. Senate seats for almost three decades; and the Maryland state legislature has been controlled by the Democrats since what seems like the McKinley Administration.

The secessionist fervor is just a local variant of the paranoid spasms of rage that have racked white conservatives since the dawn of the tea party movement four years ago. Might this sense of alienation have something to do with Barack Obama's election and re-election? Methinks so.

I'll happily give Mr. Strzelczyk the benefit of the racial doubt, but the fact is that tea party-affiliated conservatives in general are known to harbor very negative views toward non-whites. As Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz demonstrates in his latest book, "The Polarized Public: Why America is So Dysfunctional," the best statistical predictor of tea party affiliation is conservative ideology, but the second best predictor — with stronger predictive coefficients than variables like age, gender or income — is racial resentment and personal disdain for President Obama. Except for scattered pockets here and there, Western Maryland is the least multi-racial part of the state.

Still, these would-be secessionists should be careful what they wish for. The five western Maryland counties contain about 11 percent of the state's population, yet according to state tax data they account for only 10 percent of Maryland's tax base while scarfing up more than 13 percent of Maryland's total unemployment benefits. To borrow some of the tea party's own language, the region is a statewide taker, not maker.

Seriously: West Virginia is a short drive. A fleet of U-Hauls and gas wouldn't cost much. (I've got a strong back and plenty of moving experience, should Mr. Strzelczyk and his fellow secessionists need extra help with the hand trucks.)

At which point the rest of too-progressive Maryland — a polyglot state that consistently ranks near the top nationally on measures like the share of college-educated citizens and median household income — can progress into the 21st century without them.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is schaller67@gmail.com. Twitter: @schaller67.

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