Delegate Larry Kump, a freshman who represents northwestern Berkeley County and northeastern Morgan County, has introduced a bill that would provide for a non-binding referendum in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties to determine if a majority of residents of these three counties would like tomsecede from West Virginia and rejoin Virginia.
In the days since that introduction I have tried to determine what to make of his action. I go back and forth between mirth and outrage. I think this idea is the epitome of nonsense.
The image of the Eastern Panhandle over most of West Virginia is one of elitism. Many West Virginians outside our panhandle think we consider ourselves to be better than they are. Talk of secession reinforces that image. It also makes it more difficult to get the attention of state government to our serious problems that are different from those of the rest of the state.
We've had a tough time getting salaries for public school and state employees that are adequate for the cost of living here. We've also had a tough time getting attention to the fact that our property tax structure is equally unfair to our area. The difficulty accomplishing these things is exacerbated by the widespread view over most of the state that "you folks in the Eastern Panhandle don't really want to think of yourselves as West Virginians."
Periodically someone somewhere in the Eastern Panhandle raises the question of returning to Virginia, from whence all of West Virginia came. There might be some logic in raising the question if such a move could in fact be accomplished.
But the United States Constitution says that you cannot take territory from an existing state without that state's permission. West Virginia will never give us permission to leave, even if we wanted to. So, there!
West Virginia was able to secede from Virginia after Virginia tried to secede from the union. So, ask some, why can't the Eastern Panhandle do the same thing?
When Virginia tried to leave the union by force of arms most of what is now West Virginia didn't want to go. Also, many people in the counties on the western slope of the Alleghenies (most of what is now West Virginia) wanted to leave Virginia and form a new state anyway. Their representatives in the Virginia Legislature called themselves into session. When the legislators from the pro-Confederacy parts of Virginia didn't show up, the westerners voted themselves permission to leave. President Abraham Lincoln, using the extraordinary powers granted him under martial law, recognized the action as legitimate.
How about filing a lawsuit in federal court, some ask. That's already happened. Shortly after the Civil War the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Lincoln's action.
So, if our country, God forbid, ever has another Civil War, maybe the Eastern Panhandle could copy the political brilliance of the founders of West Virginia and slip away. Short of such a cataclysm it's not going to happen.
Some have suggested that Virginia might want to pay West Virginia money to get our three counties. Fat chance. I'll wager that even if Virginia were willing to pay something for us it wouldn't be anywhere near what West Virginia would demand.
I personally think we're better off in West Virginia than we would be in either Virginia or Maryland. Those states are primarily urban in nature, and the rural areas of both chafe under many of the decisions made in Richmond and Annapolis.
The eastern three counties have about ten percent of West Virginia's population (and will have therefore about ten percent of the representation in the Legislature after redistricting this year). We would have about three percent of Maryland's population and only two percent of Virginia's, with a representation percentage to match in each.
I think the voters of each of our districts sent us to Charleston to do serious work toward solving our problems, not to make quixotic statements that command media attention but are ultimately counterproductive.