Maryland is a state so midnight blue that five counties in the westernmost part of the state want to peel away to become the 51st state. Well, why not? Some dreamers in the nation’s capital want to convert the District of Columbia into New Columbia. They have to get into a long line. Barack Obama once imagined that he was already president of 57 states (and later imagined that Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., were on the Gulf of Mexico), so geography has become fungible.
The five unhappy counties in Maryland cite irreconcilable political differences and want a divorce from Maryland and its reflexive liberalism. They would become a real Free State — free from the oppressive tax and regulatory regime in Annapolis and the Democrat-dominated General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.
The secessionists want to follow a movement of small businesses and taxpayers out of Maryland. Larry Hogan, who served in the Cabinet of Robert Ehrlich, the Republican governor from 2003 to 2007, and is now the chairman of Change Maryland, says 6,500 small businesses and 31,000 taxpayers have already left the state. Four Fortune 500 companies were once based in Baltimore; now there are none. He says state spending has risen by more than $1 billion annually in the O’Malley years and taxes on sales, alcohol, gasoline and even toilet-flushing, have soared. The toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge has risen from $2.50 to $6, and the new stormwater management fee, the so-called “rain tax,” pelts businesses with four-figure bills.
The secessionists bristle at the term “secession.” That’s a bad marketing term because it was “used when the colonies seceded from Britain and the Southern states seceded from the Union,” says Scott Strzelczyk of New Windsor, Md., founder of the Western Maryland statehood movement. “Yes, the five counties would be leaving Maryland as we know it today, but the new state is not leaving the union it would be another state the 51st .”
Dreamers of statehood have to dream big, and in their dreams the new state of Western Maryland could one day include even the Eastern Shore — all represented in Washington now by Maryland’s only Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris. The shape of the expanded new state would be a gerrymander similar to the shape of Michigan, whose Upper Peninsula has sometimes dreamed of becoming the state of Superior.
Statehood dreamers, in fact, abound everywhere. Voters in several rural counties of Colorado, in response to what they call “a war on rural Colorado,” will say in the November elections whether they want to form the state of North Colorado. Republicans in downstate Illinois, which includes everything outside of Cook County, have suggested making Chicago a state and leaving everyone else alone. Californians have talked of slicing the state in two and establishing separate states around Los Angeles and San Francisco, or California and Oregon could become the big state of Jefferson. Texas retained the “right” to divvy itself up into four new states when it was admitted to the union in 1845.
There’s precedent for this multiplication by division. Vermont was once part of New York, Maine a part of Massachusetts and Delaware calls Pennsylvania the old country. Virginia was robbed of two states, Kentucky and West Virginia. More or less serious statehood movements have been reported in the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti and even New Zealand. So Western Maryland is not alone. There might not be enough stars in the sky to fill out the flag.
The Washington Times