Oregon state senator asked to act on shifting counties to Idaho – a request he sought

In a letter seeking legislative action, the Grant County Court took no position on the proposal to merge parts of Oregon with Idaho.

By: - December 10, 2021 6:00 am

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, speaks during a legislative special session in September 2021. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

An eastern Oregon legislator is being called on his declaration that he would advance the idea of moving portions of Oregon to Idaho – if county commissioners asked.

Such legislation would be a big step forward for a quixotic political effort to reject governance by Oregon officials and seek the embrace of a more Republican, more conservative Idaho government.

And it  would bring the dissatisfaction coursing through many areas of rural Oregon to the capital.

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, is considering doing so even though he’s not enthusiastic about the idea.

In October, he told a gathering in John Day that if county commissioners would bring him a letter requesting legislation, he would act.

Sandie Gilson, manager of a title company and the Grant County leader of the Move Oregon’s Border movement, was at that meeting. She asked him if he’d introduce legislation to help the cause.

“He responded that he would like a letter from the county commissioners requesting the bill to be brought to the Senate,” Gilson said in an email recounting the meeting.

On Wednesday, the Grant County Court – the equivalent of a county commission – produced just that, signing a letter to Findley and state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane.

County Judge Scott Myers said he signed the letter reluctantly.

“We did the letter because Sen. Findley asked us to,” said Myers.

Myers finds the whole matter a “distraction” and “waste of energy.”

The letter noted that in May, 62% of the Grant County voters casting ballots supported a measure requiring local government discussions about the border move.

“We ask that you move this item forward to the Oregon Legislature in the near future,” said the letter, signed by Myers and Commissioners Sam Palmer and Jim Hamsher. “We, as the governing body of Grant County, do not intend to show favor or opposition, but only to represent the will of the people.”

READ IT: Grant County Court letter

Findley, a former city manager and BLM fire manager, said “I don’t have an opinion” on whether any portion of Oregon should be surrendered to Idaho.

He said any legislation he introduced would be because he often introduces legislation at the request of constituents.

Findley said he has asked legislative lawyers to outline for him what would be the next legal steps toward a transfer.

“This is a big lift,” said Findley, who added he doesn’t think the idea is “practical.”

Mike McCarter, the LaPine man who is the driving force behind Move Oregon’s Border, said Wednesday that he appreciated Grant County’s actions.

He said legislators are the “decision makers” regarding any boundary shift. He said at this point he wants legislators to form a committee or work group “to sit down and starting to look at what this would look like, to release rural counties to Idaho.”

He said he’s not after a legislative vote now on the move itself.

Shifting boundaries would take approval by the Oregon and Idaho legislatures and Congress.

Palmer, one of the Grant County commissioners, said he doesn’t think local voters really were backing a move to Idaho.

“They wanted to send a message to the governor and that’s why they voted the way they did,” Palmer said.

Myers thinks more Grant County residents oppose the idea than support it. He said of letters flowing to the county commissioners, most object to living in Idaho.

“One or two think it is a great idea,” Myers said.

Besides Grant County, voters in Baker, Union, Malheur, Lake, Harney, Jefferson and Sherman counties have backed measures requiring county officials to discuss the idea. This week, the movement turned in what it said were enough signatures to force similar votes in Douglas and Klamath counties next year.

The idea of carving off a chunk of Oregon and handing it to Idaho leaves public officials wondering how that would work.

Palmer wants to know, for instance, what would happen to cases pending in Oregon state courts or to those licensed in professions and trades in Oregon who would go under Idaho’s jurisdiction.

McCarter himself has questions. He’s curious, for instance, what would happen to state pensions for Oregon’s retired public employees.

Findley said he talks often on the floor of the Senate “about the frustration level of eastern Oregon…Eastside residents, rural Oregon residents, do not feel they get a fair shake.”

Findley said no other county commission has asked him to back such legislation. He said if he did advance it, he’d offer other legislators the chance to join him as co-sponsors.

He said he won’t do so in the session scheduled for February, when legislators are limited to introducing two bills. Findley said he already has his two in.

As for legislation regarding border-moving issues?

“That’s a long way away,” Findley said.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz

Les Zaitz is a veteran editor and investigative reporter, serving Oregon for more than 45 years. He reported for The Oregonian for 25 years and owns community newspapers and a digital news service. He is a national SPJ fellow, two-time Pulitzer finalist, including for a lengthy investigation of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon and five-time winner of Oregon’s top investigative reporting award. He has investigated corrupt state legislators, phony charities, and an international cult that moved to Oregon, and the biggest bank failure in Oregon history. He also has been active in reforming the state’s public records law and was appointed by the governor to the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. In his spare time, he operates a ranch nestled in a national forest, feeding horses and assorted animals.