New County Movement Threatens Establishment (Part II)
Citizens in Washington State Work to
Reestablish Democratic Government
By Paul Clark
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
The Establishment Fights Back
the secretary of state's office has certified that the
petitions have achieved the numbers of signatures needed, the new
counties cannot come into existence until the state legislature enacts
legislation specifying how these splits are to take place. The
legislature will divide up the assets and liabilities of the old
county, and set the official county boundaries. This spring, State
Representative John Koster, a Republican from the district of the new
Skykomish county, introduced bills to bring into existence three of
these new counties.
faced the united opposition of Democrats in the state
legislature, but Republicans have a majority in both houses.
Nevertheless, Republican support for the new counties, proved to be
only lukewarm. Only the one bill to create Skykomish County was
actually brought up for a vote in the House, and passed. Pressure
from the Democratic governor Gary Locke prevented any bill from ever
being considered in the State senate, despite Republican control. One
of the staffers on the committee handing the creation of new counties
said he believes the passage of the Skykomish County bill through the
House represented a sop thrown to supporters of the new counties
rather than any serious commitment of most members.
creation of the three counties remains in limbo until
next year when the State Legislature can take up the measures again.
But supporters of the new counties insist that they will never rest
until the new counties come into existence.
new county with enough signatures, Cedar county is
pursuing a slightly different route. Cedar county committee has
maintained that the petition process constitutes a special election.
Cedar county committee has filed suit with the State Supreme Court,
asking the court to order the Secretary of State's office to certify
the petition process as an election. They feel that if the process is
certified as an election that the legislature will have no choice but
to pass legislation bringing the county into existence.
one of the founders of the new county movement has
taken an even more creative approach. In a move which is
controversial even within the new county movement Stokes has filed a
petition with the United Nations Human Rights Commission arguing that
"the right of self-determination and self-government ... are being
denied by the state of Washington." Supporters hope the complaint
will embarrass Gov. Locke enough to get him to drop his opposition.
opposition of the political establishment may be
delaying the creation of new counties, it has done nothing to dilute
the ardor of the new county movement. If anything it has energized
the movement even more, and has shown the need for more representative
government. Citizens for River County started their movement in the
summer of 1996 and in less than a year the committee has collected
over 4,000 signatures -- about a third of the total needed.
secession has always been opposed by existing
establishments, there have been a couple of notable successes in
recent years. In 1983, through a petition process very similar to
that being used in Washington, the northern half of Yuma County,
Arizona, broke away forming the new county of La Paz. The political
establishment in Arizona seems to have been caught off guard by the
move and were unable to stop the formation of the new county.
Nevertheless, after La Paz came into existence and it appeared that
other counties might also break apart, the state of Arizona changed
its law to make county secession much more difficult.
success story in progress is the secession of the San
Fernando Valley from the city of Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a
population larger than many states, and larger than many countries.
It is also a huge sprawling city. The size and population of the city
has meant that local government does not really exist in the ordinary
sense of the word. For years the population of San Fernando has
sought to break away from Los Angeles and become it own city, but the
Los Angeles city council has had veto power over loss of any section
of the city.
this spring, because of public outcry, the city of Los
Angeles has dropped its veto of the new proposal and is accepting a
compromise bill in the California legislature which will remove the
veto power of the city council. Senate bill 176 and assembly bill 62,
have passed easily through committee and seem ready to pass the full
legislature and be signed by Gov. Wilson. This proposal will allow
San Fernando to secede from Los Angeles with a majority vote of the
Los Angeles residents. That vote is not assured, but supporters feel
that they finally have a real chance now that the city council has
dropped its veto.
of any sort has never been easy. The American colonies
fought a long war for their independence. Madison remarked in
Federalist 14 that one of the advantages of the American federal
system, provided for in article 4 section 3, was that when states
became too populous for effective self-government they could divide
and form new states. Jealousy between states for representation in
the Senate and desire of established governments to keep as many
subjects as possible, has prevented this from happening.
Nevertheless, on the local level we are beginning to see a revival of
the old idea that self-government means local government.
At a time
when politicians are increasingly moving towards large,
centralized government citizens are finding an effective tool in
returning to smaller, more local government. The United States was
founded on the idea of self-determination and local control, just
maybe we have a chance to get back to it.
Paul Clark email@example.com
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.