New County Movement Threatens Establishment (Part I)
Citizens in Washington State Work to
Reestablish Democratic Government
By Paul Clark
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.
seceding from their counties, and forming new counties
within the confines of the old parent counties.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.