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32


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 32, August 1, 1997

New County Movement Threatens Establishment (Part I)

Citizens in Washington State Work to
Reestablish Democratic Government

By Paul Clark
localsov@bellatlantic.net

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         We live in the era of big government: huge federal government, big state government, even big local governments. Citizens in Washington state, however, are using a provision in the state constitution to reign in government and bring it back closer to the people.
         They are seceding from their counties, and forming new counties within the confines of the old parent counties.
         Citizens committees to form new counties have sprung up across the state and are spreading like wildfire. There are nine new counties being proposed in Washington. Four of them have achieved signatures of the majority of voters within their jurisdiction, which is required to break away. Five others are still collecting signatures but seem poised to quickly achieve the required number.
         Cedar, Skykomish and Freedom counties are being created out of King and Snohomish around Seattle. On the Canadian border, Pioneer County is being created out of Whatcom County. [SEE MAP] The five others are River (near Vancouver) Puget Sound, West Seattle, Vashon (near Seattle), and Liberty County (out of Grant County in central Washington).
         Why are they seceding? Lois Gustafson, president of Cedar County Committee explains that the movement to create new counties is simply, "To bring the government close to the people." Joe Ahrend of Citizens for River County says that "taxes are out of control; every time someone wants to do something with their land it seems there's some endangered bug on it. We have no say on how money is spent, finally we said enough is enough." Arny Hansen of Skykomish County Committee says the movement is about "representation, local control, less bureaucracy, more responsive officials, and smaller government."
         In the view of those who are leading the movement the existing county governments have become too distant, too bureaucratic, too large, too meddlesome, too entrenched, and have forgotten that local officials are supposed to serve the people rather than other bureaucracies in Olympia and Washington, DC.
         Many of the issues that have brought this movement into being involve restriction on development and use of private property. Leaders say they plan to eliminate most of the local regulations. Another issue which has thrown the establishment into panic is the statement of the new county leaders that they intend to reassert local control over things like law enforcement and education, which have come increasingly under control of state and federal government. The mission statement of Citizens for River County, for example, says that the new county will accept no federal or state education funds. Rather than trying to maintain an expensive public school bureaucracy they say they will actually encourage alternatives like home schooling.

Secession As Check On Government

         It has been said that the ultimate voting power is the power to vote with your feet. When governments become too burdensome people leave their jurisdiction. To stem the loss of revenue government then either must become less burdensome, or extend its jurisdiction to make it impractical for anyone to leave. This being true, the easier it is to leave a government's jurisdiction the less burdensome it can be. The ultimate extension of this principle is the ability for small communities to leave a government's jurisdiction without having to move geographically. As one would expect, the political establishment in Washington does not look favorably on these movements, but supporters are using a provision of the Washington constitution which seems to allow for the creation of new counties on fairly easy terms. Article 11, section 3 of the Washington constitution reads:

          New Counties. No new counties shall be established which shall reduce any county to a population less than four thousand (4,000), nor shall a new county be formed containing a less population than two thousand (2,000). There shall be no territory stricken from any county unless a majority of the voters living in such territory shall petition therefore and then only under such conditions as may be prescribed by general law applicable to the whole state.

         What is unique about this provision is that unlike many constitutions which require the permission of the old county in order to create a new one; here, all that is required is a petition by a majority of voters in the territory to form the new county.
         Theoretically, if you are not happy with the way your local government is running things, all you have to do is get together with a couple thousand of your neighbors, and you can secede and start your own county. It is never quite as easy as that. The political establishment in the state has being doing everything it can to prevent the formation of new counties.


Paul Clark localsov@bellatlantic.net holds a doctorate in Political Philosophy. He has been active in Washington politics for over ten years. He is former director of Federation for American Afghan Action which sought to get effective military aid to the Afghan resistance. He is also a former Marine NCO and veteran of the Gulf War. He is currently Director of Coalition for Local Sovereignty, a group that works to return political power to local communities.


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