Over the past few years, the word “secession” has once again become a regular part of American political conversation. At first the talk surrounded states such as Texas declaring that they have a right to secede from the union. Now the idea of many secessionists is to break off parts of existing states to form new states. The most recent state to face this new talk of secession is Maryland.
For those who are not schooled in Maryland geography, here’s a quick primer. Maryland is one of the most unusually shaped states in the U.S. It winds from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Appalachian mountains in the west. The “Eastern Shore,” which is the area east of the Chesapeake Bay, shares a peninsula with Delaware and two counties of Virginia. Western Maryland is the area west of the Baltimore-Washington metroplex, sandwiched between western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
About 30 years ago, there was talk of forming a state out of Delaware, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and the Virginia Peninsula. Nothing has been heard of that idea in recent times. That is likely because conservatives in eastern Maryland and southern Delaware realize that they would not be dominant in that arrangement. Maryland’s current secession talk comes from the other side of the state — western Maryland.
Breaking away from Maryland’s liberal government.
Scott Strzelcyzk is an IT consultant who is trying to whip up support for forming an independent state out of Maryland’s five western counties. He has been trying to sell his idea at Tea Party meetings in the region. According to The Raw Story, Strzelcyzk describes himself and his “Liberate Western Maryland” movement this way:
I think of myself as an average citizen who is sick and tired of being sick and tired. In Maryland, we have a number of irreconcilable differences with the state government and how they govern.
Those differences include disagreements on topics such as gun control, in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Given that Maryland has been out in front of a number of issues such as approving gay marriage and banning capital punishment, you can be sure that those items figure into Strzelcyzk’s agenda as well.
Frank Shafroth, of Virginia’s George Mason University, says that these breakaway movements are signs of frustration among an aging population. Like other areas desiring to break away from their current states, western Maryland is more rural, older, and whiter than the state as a whole.
Shafroth says that the makeup of the areas desiring to break away makes it harder for them to do so. He observes that the first obstacle would be approval from the state legislature. Since the areas desiring to secede are generally low in population, they lack the political clout that they would need to push their agenda. Should they manage to get the state’s approval, they then must get the ok from Congress. Given that Americans and our politicians love tradition, Congress is not likely to be interested in such changes.
Maryland’s largest newspaper weighs in.
Last September, Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas F. Schaller highlighted some of Liberate Western Maryland’s grievances. For example, since governor Spiro Agnew resigned to become vice president in 1969, the state has only had one other Republican governor. Recently, the Democratic controlled state legislature altered congressional district boundaries, turning western Maryland’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from red to blue. So yes, Schaller admits, western Maryland has some issues with the state.
Schaller points out that a separate state in western Maryland would have some economic problems. The area contains 11 percent of the state’s population. It represents 10 percent of the state’s tax base, but uses 13 percent of the state’s unemployment benefits. Schaller observes: “To borrow some of the tea party’s own language, the region is a statewide taker, not maker.”
Schaller offers a different idea to secessionists: move to West Virginia. Most of the area that wants to break away lies only a handful of miles from either West Virginia or Pennsylvania. The areas of those states that lie closest to western Maryland share the same conservative opinions. Their state governments are run by conservatives. So, instead of breaking up Maryland, just move.
Thomas Schaller asks valid questions of the movement in his column. One of those is regarding its timing. Given that Maryland has only had a Republican governor for four years out of the past 44, it’s not like Democrats suddenly took control of the state. He also wonders what is behind these breakaway movements, and points out that no liberal area in a red state has made any noise about seceding. We’ll close with Schaller’s conclusion:
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.
Here’s a video report from Fox News: