Three Counties Propose Plan of Secession from Maryland

Maryland’s unity is under threat from Republican lawmakers from Garrett, Allegany, and Washington county, who are now seeking secession from the state to join West Virginia.

Proposals for county-level secession are, surprisingly, not a rarity. The grassroots movement for separating upstate New York from the more liberal New York City frequently makes the news. In May, five counties of Oregon voted for secession to join the more conservative Idaho. And the failed recall of Governor Newson of California a few weeks prior reignited the debate on a separated northern California state.

Maryland has a history of division since its founding. The Mason-Dixon Line, established in the early nineteenth century, separated Maryland into two distinctive parts, the eastern coastal lowlands and the mountainous west. The geographical differences led to several social issues, for example, the issue over fracking: the state legislature passed a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing in 2017, yet the ban angered residents of western Maryland, which sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, an abundant source of natural gases.

The difference in geography is not the only source of division within Maryland. Traditionally, western Maryland is more conservative and less supportive of the progressive policies coming out of Annapolis. During the Civil War, most residents in the Baltimore area remained loyal to the Union, while many in the southern and western parts of the state were sympathetic to the Confederacy. President Lincoln had famously suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland to jail Confederate supporters.

More than 150 years after the Civil War, the unity of Maryland is once again put to the test. On October 22, The New York Times reported that six Republican lawmakers from the three counties had written a letter to West Virginian legislative leaders, seeking advice on how to proceed with a plan of seceding from Maryland to join West Virginia.

A map of Maryland showing its counties. From Encyclopedia Britannica

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t feel there is a strong sense of unrest and unhappiness among people in our rural area of the state.” Said Wendell Beitzel, a Republican member representing Garrett and Allegany county in the Maryland House of Delegates.

West Virginia responded positively to the proposal. In a public speech, Governor Jim Justice directly addressed many of western Marylanders’ concerns: “Our state supports personal freedoms. We value the Second Amendment. We love the rights of the unborn… We love and embrace our energy industry.” Justice also emphasized that West Virginia would welcome the three counties “with open arms.” The Democratic members of the Maryland House, on the other hand, dismissed the proposal as “unnecessary” and “divisive.”

Although Maryland continues to be a Democratic stronghold since the 1992 presidential election, the state is also one of the most gerrymandered in the whole nation in favor of the Democrats. Because the three counties’ proposal to secede from Maryland needs to pass the Democratic-majority state legislature and the national Congress, according to Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the plan is almost destined to go nowhere. However, it is a perfect reflection of the political division within Maryland. Perhaps it is now time to think about whether the voting record and general policies of the state are truly representative of its people.

 

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