Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Breakaway Movements Rumbling through Some States

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Breakaway Movements Rumbling through Some States

Article excerpt

Houston Chronicle

WASHINGTON _ Why leave Balkanization to the Balkans?

With none of the gunfire but hardly less fervor than in the former Yugoslavia, disaffected pieces of U.S. states are clamoring to break away.

More taxes, less services and, some believe, cultural differences fed by racial and ethnic prejudice are prompting talk in more and more states about splitting up.

Such movements have come and gone throughout the nation's history, but the latest round of domestic geopolitical unrest has a new touch of urgency, if not reality. Advocates profess not to be daunted by the formidable roadblocks to rearranging the national map _ including procedural, financial and political hurdles.

The latest itch comes in California, where a legislative committee last week sent forward a bill calling for a 1994 referendum on carving the Golden State into three pieces.

"California is clinically depressed and totally dysfunctional" in its present configuration, argued the measure's sponsor, Assemblyman Stan Statham, a Republican from relatively bucolic Shasta County in the north, more than 500 miles from the mean streets of Los Angeles.

The only way to ensure better government, he contends, is to provide new, separate governments.

Statham's move follows similar rumblings in Texas, New York, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and other states.

Two years ago in Texas, Republican state Rep. David Swinford of Dumas introduced a bill to spin off the Panhandle as a separate state. At heart, Swinford conceded recently, the measure was a protest, to highlight the contention that his constituents send $26 in taxes to Austin for every $1 worth of state services they get back.

Legislators chuckled over the proposal and went back to whatever else they were doing, Swinford recalled. "It died a slow and painful death," he said.

But his bill represented a feeling that echoes around the country. Separatists from a section of western Illinois, arguing they were bereft of political power and perks, dubbed their region "Forgottonia."

Existing state boundaries often make no sense, at least in a present-day context.

"If you were drawing a map of political cultures or regional cultures, you wouldn't use state boundary lines," said Stanley Brunn, a University of Kentucky geographer who follows break-away movements.

But the state lines are there, and rarely have been changed. Only three times have states been carved directly out of other states: Kentucky (1792) and West Virginia (1863) from Virginia, and Maine (1820) from Massachusetts.

"There's absolutely nothing in the whole realm of geography that's harder to change than a political boundary," said Peirce Lewis of Pennsylvania State University. "Cast your mind back over the last century. …

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