counties in western Maryland seek refuge in western Virginia | News, Sports, Jobs
CHARLESTON – Several state lawmakers from neighboring Maryland crossed the border last week in an attempt to bring their counties to West Virginia.
Representatives from Legislative District 1 consisting of Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties and two members of the Washington County delegation wrote two letters dated October 14 to West Virginia Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and the Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, expressing interest in their counties joining West Virginia.
“We, the undersigned … ask that you consider adding us as constituent counties of the State of West Virginia,” said one of the two letters. “We believe this arrangement can be mutually beneficial for both states and for our local constituencies. Please advise on the next steps.
The letters were signed by State Senator George Edwards, R-Garrett / Allegany / Washington, and Delegates Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett / Allegany, Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, Mike McKay, R-Alleghany / Washington and William Wivell, R-Washington.
When asked by phone Thursday why lawmakers wanted their counties to leave Maryland, Beitzel asked “Do you have two days?” “
“The western parts of the state feel like they’ve been wronged in so many ways, and many voters have approached us… saying ‘Why can’t we just join West Virginia?’ It’s that simple, “ Beitzel said.
The counties of Garrett, Allegany and Washington border the northern part of the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, stretching along the counties of Preston, Grant, Mineral, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson. The three counties of Maryland have a combined population of 251,617 according to the 2020 US Census.
Allegany County is home to Cumberland, while Washington County is home to Hagerstown. If Allegany and Washington counties were added to the state, Hagerstown and Cumberland would be in the top 10 largest cities in West Virginia.
This is not the first time that some of the counties in western Maryland have considered breaking away from their state. The Washington Post reported in 2013 of the Western Maryland Initiative, a movement to break up the counties of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Caroll and Frederick to form its own state.
However, the break is difficult to do, as West Virginia well knows, being the only state to successfully leave another state.
The United States Constitution has a process for parts of states to leave their states, known as the admission clause.
“New states can be admitted by Congress into this Union; but no new state shall be formed or erected under the jurisdiction of another state; nor shall any state be formed by the union of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of Congress.
Beitzel said the first step was to see if there was an interest in West Virginia for Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties to join Mountain State. The next step will be to hold a referendum on the 2022 ballots to gauge the interest of citizens of those counties in joining West Virginia. If the interest is there, both houses of the Maryland General Assembly should approve by a majority vote, followed by a vote in Congress.
“It would be very difficult to do that” Beitzel said. “It’s a long process… the first thing before we do anything as lawmakers in this part of Maryland in regards to the possibility of going to West Virginia is to make sure that Virginia -Western would be willing to take us. “
In conversations and statements by lawmakers in West Virginia on Thursday, the interest is indeed there.
“President Hanshaw says this is an introductory step in what would be a bit of a long process, but we would certainly love to see any of our border counties that see West Virginia be a thriving and growing part of our country’s economy with the best quality of life anywhere in the world. the country,” said Ann Ali, director of communications for the House of Delegates.
“I welcome my friends and neighbors who live in these three counties”, Blair said by phone Thursday afternoon. The Senate District of Blair is located across the border from Washington County, where his wife also works. “I think it’s recognition of what we’ve done in this state. Low unemployment rate, more job opportunities, less taxes. A lot of great things have happened in this state. They see it.
Pro House Speaker Tem Gary Howell, R-Mineral, represents a district across from Washington and Allegany counties. He said those counties had more in common with West Virginia than with Maryland.
“We would like these counties of Maryland to join West Virginia”, Howell said by phone. “These counties are more like West Virginia than the rest of Maryland. You compare Garrett County to Preston County. They hang out and look a lot alike. Allegany County is very similar to Mineral County and Washington County is very similar to Berkeley County. There are a lot of synergies and cross-border activities… I think they would suit West Virginia very well.
During the 2020 legislative session, Republican lawmakers and Governor Jim Justice invited Frederick County and other counties in Virginia to join West Virginia through resolutions and a justice visit to the state.
Frederick County was one of three counties in Virginia, including Berkeley and Jefferson counties, invited to join West Virginia in 1862 by the Reformed Virginia government, then headquartered in Wheeling after the departure of Union Virginia. Only the counties of Berkeley and Jefferson accepted the invitation. Despite renewed appeals from West Virginia officials, counties have shown no interest.
(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])