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32


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 32, August 1, 1997

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

         Although 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.
         The bills 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.
         The official 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.
         The other 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.
         John Stokes, 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.
         While the 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.

Success Stories

         While 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.
         Another 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.
         Finally, 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.
         Secession 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 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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