Annapolis (LOOTPRESS) — If state lawmakers like Delegate Gary Howell and Senators Craig Blair and Charles Trump can miraculously get the West Virginia legislature to agree on redistricting, why would anyone doubt the possibility that part of the neighboring state of Maryland will some day become part of the Mountain State?
Having accomplished the ten-year redistricting of the state yesterday, many legislators were surprised to learn that Western Maryland state lawmakers have sent letters to officials in West Virginia, asking them to “consider adding us as constituent counties to the State of West Virginia.”
It’s an idea that’s been bounced around for decades but some — at least in Maryland — believe it’s time for action.
“We believe this arrangement may be mutually beneficial for both states and for our local constituencies,” the lawmakers wrote in the letters, which were sent earlier this month and released publicly today.
The proposal is serious enough to be widely discussed by West Virginia officials such as those mentioned earlier. And it made headlines in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
The letter was signed by five Republican lawmakers who represent Maryland’s three westernmost counties: Garrett, Allegany and Washington. The three have a population of about 350,000.
Although Howell and others expressed interest in the idea to other lawmakers, those in both states acknowledged adding those counties to West Virginia would be a complicated task.
One sticking point could be Maryland’s official position on the idea.
Maryland Delegate Mike McKay, a Republican who represents Washington and Allegany counties, told the newspaper that one idea is to pass a bill that would put a nonbinding referendum on the 2022 ballot, asking voters in the three counties what they think about the switch.
McKay told the newspaper that Maryland officials have to find out if West Virginia would even entertain the idea. On first blush in West Virginia, it seems they might.
“First you have to knock on the door and see if the person is willing to answer before we can discuss how it would work out,” McKay told the Sun.
West Virginia Senate President Blair received the letter but was not available to discuss it Thursday, the newspaper reported.
Many residents in the three counties have argued for years that their rural nature makes them more identifiable with West Virginia than the urban areas in Eastern Maryland.
“These three counties in Maryland, we would welcome these counties. This is the first step. It’s early in the process if it even does happen,” Howell, a Republican who represents Mineral County, West Virginia, said.
“These counties are more like West Virginia than they are the rest of Maryland,” Howell said, acknowledging that he has participated in earlier discussions of the idea.
“Western Maryland lawmakers have periodically raised concerns in the Maryland General Assembly that their part of the state is different from the rest of the state, with a more conservative political outlook, unique economic drivers, a media market based in Pittsburgh and close borders with surrounding states,” the Sun observed.
“When hydraulic fracturing, a method of drilling for natural gas also known as ‘fracking,’ was banned a few years ago, Western Maryland lawmakers objected, saying that the rest of Maryland was taking away a potential economic lifeline for the largely rural area,” the paper went on.
McKay said his constituents don’t feel their attitudes on gun rights, taxes and other issues are heard in Annapolis.
“McKay said the idea of swapping the western counties from Maryland to West Virginia has been tossed around before, and lawmakers for the region thought now was a good time to start exploring the issue. If it turns out that their constituents don’t want it — or if West Virginia isn’t interested — then the matter would be put to bed,” the Sun said.
“We’re answering the call of some of our constituents who have been requesting this for many years,” he said.
Hagerstown would be the most populous city in the counties being discussed. It has a population of 39,662. That would make it the third largest city in the Mountain State, following Charleston and Huntington. It and Martinsburg, West Virginia, already form one metropolitan area.