Don't secede; vote with your feet

The best solution isn't to create a new state in Western Maryland, it's to move somewhere else

October 29, 2013|Thomas F. Schaller

In a column last month I suggested that members of the Western Maryland Initiative, which is calling for the state's five western-most counties to secede from the state, consider a more parsimonious solution: Simply move to West Virginia.

The column generated quite a few angry emails and phone calls. I was "arrogant," "condescending," and "insulting." A Cumberland man provided his address and welcomed a "pansy" like me to drop by his home for the "attitude adjustment" I sorely need. (Somehow I don't think he meant happy hour cocktails on his porch.)

I confess to being a bit cheeky in that earlier column. I believe absurd ideas invite "attitudinal adjustments" in my rhetorical style. But I was utterly serious about relocation as a solution. So with tongue now removed from cheek, let me expound upon the idea's merits in very serious and plain language.

For years, if liberals openly criticized American foreign policy adventurism abroad or economic inequality here at home, certain conservatives would sneer, "If they hate America so much, they ought to move to Europe!" Such comments imply that criticizing the government is un-American, when in fact the opposite is true. Telling liberals who never expressed a desire to leave the country that they should move abroad — now that is condescending, arrogant and insulting.

Yet when I suggested that people who clearly hate Maryland's politics consider moving a short distance to a neighboring state that better reflects their ideology — in short: that they do exactly what they say they want to do — I'm being arrogant? That's rich.

Another common response to my column went like this: People in Western Maryland have the constitutional right to be properly represented and therefore deserve to have their own state with a governor, state legislature, two U.S. senators and the Constitution-guaranteed minimum of one U.S. House seat. Keep in mind that the region's five counties, comprising roughly 10 percent of Maryland's population would, in a newly-formed state, thereby exercise the same U.S. Senate voting power as the 90 percent of remaining Marylanders.

Let's instead apply this argument to a far more egregious example of under-representation: The half of all African Americans nationwide who presently live in the former Confederate states.

Although African Americans comprise about 25 percent of the population of the former Confederacy, since Reconstruction these 11 states have elected a grand total of one African American governor and zero U.S. senators. Most African Americans in the South have never had the opportunity to cast even a losing vote for a black gubernatorial or senatorial candidate. Their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? No way.

Putting race aside, consider that roughly 90 percent of African Americans identify as Democrats, yet all 22 southern state legislative chambers are now controlled by the Republican Party. But we don't hear southern blacks calling for secession.

Among the blessings of our federal system are the variations across the 50 states. Conservatives usually champion these differences and states' rights; indeed, they frequently employ the "vote with your feet" metaphor to encourage persons or businesses unhappy with one state's political-electoral environment to find another state where they can start a business, buy a home or just gamble for a few hours. One of them, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, just stopped by Maryland to make that very point.

Like I said, the best solution is to move. But maybe Western Marylanders don't want to take the advice of some Prius-driving, Al Gore-praising, vegetarian who wears blocky, urbane glasses and lives off the government.

Oh, you thought I was talking about myself? Sorry, that profile fits none other than former Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, as recently profiled by the Washington Examiner. And where did the man who represented Western Maryland in the U.S. House for 20 years move after he lost his seat in 2012?

You guessed it: West Virginia. So did Alex Mooney, the former Republican state senator from Western Maryland whom many conservatives expected to replace Mr. Bartlett when he retired. Mr. Mooney is running for Congress in West Virginia's 2nd District, which borders Maryland.

So I ask again, and seriously: If West Virginia is good enough for Western Maryland's former congressman and once-future congressman, isn't it good enough for the secessionists?

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

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