A group in western Maryland is seeking to secede from the remainder of the state, citing that it disagrees with the policies of the “liberal” majority government based in the capitol of Annapolis.
Calling itself the “Western Maryland Initiative,” secessionist leader Scott Strzelczyk told the Washington Post newspaper: “The people are the sovereign. If you think you have a long list of grievances and it’s been going on for decades, and you can’t get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do. Otherwise you are trapped.” Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, in predominantly rural Carroll County, also referred to the state legislature as the “dominant ruling class.”
The five western counties that would like to break off -- Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll -- account for about 11 percent of Maryland’s total population, the Post noted, and are overwhelmingly white and vote Republican, in contrast to the areas around Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which are far more diverse and tend to vote Democratic.
According to The Sentinel newspaper, the five counties in question present a mixed bag economically. Frederick and Carroll are among two of the wealthiest counties in the state, while the other three are among the poorest. “If you don’t belong in their [Democratic] party, you’ll never have your views represented,” Strzelczyk complained. “If we have more states, we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along.”
The local Carroll County Times newspaper quoted Strzelczyk as saying he wants “amicable divorce” from the State of Maryland. “Maryland has perverted the ends of government and our public liberty is endangered, therefore we, the people of the five western counties, have the right to establish a new government that represents us,” he told the Times. “That new government would be the State of Western Maryland.”
Strzelczyk complained to The Sentinel newspaper that western Maryland has no viable representation in the state, that policy is controlled and dominated by the counties with the heaviest population centers, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore City. “Annapolis could care less about the people in the five western counties,” he said. “The only two things we can count on from Annapolis are: They will assault our rights and our wallets. Consent of the governed means we can withdraw our consent. We have not given consent to the oppressive laws and regulations imposed by Annapolis on the five western counties.”
Secessionist movements also exist in other parts of the United States, including northern California, northern Colorado and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and they are largely fuelled by sharp disagreements over important political issues like immigration, gun control, gay marriage and energy. People like Strzelczyk tend to belong to rural conservative communities that find themselves increasingly at odds with the liberal leaning progressive legislation passed by governments that are increasingly voted into power by expanding urban populations. “People are just disgusted with what goes on these days,” Kit Wellman, a professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis told the Post. “These people [secessionists] figure they are better off on their own if they could just be with like-minded folks.”
But secession is no easy feat -- such an extraordinary measure would require various approvals and the overcoming certain formidable legal obstacles. Dr. Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., told International Business Times that under the U.S. Constitution, the secessionists have a chance to succeed, although in practical terms such hopes are “extremely slim.” Indeed, Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: “New states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."
Zaino indicates that this suggests that the secession plan would have to be approved by the state legislature(s) and Congress -- “a tall order and very difficult (although not impossible) to achieve.” Wellman conceded: “As a legal matter, it will be incredibly difficult, and it’s probably not going to happen.”
Some local officials in Maryland are highly skeptical. Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University and Democrat state senator for Montgomery County, in Maryland, told the Times that “The rhetoric of secession today is the language of a protest movement, not a serious campaign to change political geography. Western Maryland is a vast and important part of our state, and I’m sure nobody wants to let it go.”
Over the decades, literally hundreds of such hopeless movements have taken place in the U.S., some of which would have resulted in the formation of states with very colorful and fanciful names. In his book “Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It,” Michael J. Trinklein wrote of many such mythical states that never saw the light of day. One such bizarre proposed creation “Texlahoma” would have been formed from 46 counties in Texas and 23 countries in Oklahoma in the early 20th century -- its advocates wanted better roads for their wonderful new toy, the automobile. Another state, “Forgottonia,” would have been the home to residents of 14 counties on western Illinois who felt ignored by the central government in Springfield.
In 1896, as Trinklein pointed out, the good citizens of Long Island wished to secede from New York State proper -- sugar tycoon Adolph Mollenhauer said he was tired of irresponsible legislators in other parts of the state who were spending Long Islanders’ tax money without getting much in return. In Maryland itself, not too long ago, in the 1970s, the residents of the eastern part of the state, wanted to form a new state called Chesapeake, in order to retain more of the tourist dollars that it generated.
As for Strzelczyk, his Western Maryland Initiative movement commenced in July with a Facebook page that has so far attracted more than 2000 “likes.”Strzelczyk has spoken at Tea Party rallies, and calls himself a “Constitutionalist,” running a blog called “A Citizen’s View.” His efforts are aided by a paralegal in Carroll County named Suzanne Reisig Olden. “The state quite honestly disgusts me,” Olden told the Post. “Those that we elect in the House of Delegates or in the Senate who are conservative are either ignored or just told to shut up. My voice does not count. In a new state, my vote could count, my values would be valued. So I like the idea.”
The last state to successfully secede from an existing state was in 1863 when West Virginia, which originally belonged to the present state of Virginia, broke off, rather than leave the Union during the Civil War.
Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York, noted that when West Virginia was created in 1863 they were successful because most of its population was pro-Union. “By breaking away they gave the government an advantage in the Civil War,” Chandler stated. “Congress is unlikely to establish a new state today, because of partisan gridlock.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.