Pipe Dreams Don’t Come True
By Barry Rascovar
September 25 — Several reader comments, plus a former congressman’s email to MarylandReporter.com, take exception to an omission from politicalmaryland.com’s September 23 column: “The 51st State: Western Maryland.
Why wasn’t secession talk on Maryland’s Eastern Shore part of that blog?
Yes, unhappy Eastern Shore politicians have earned a few headlines in local papers over the decades by submitting secession bills to the Maryland General Assembly that have no chance of being taken seriously.
From ‘Outhouse’ to ‘Our House’
Reader Brian Klaff comments:
“If you’ll recall, this isn’t even the first time this has happened in Maryland. I distinctly recall that in 1991 when Governor [William Donald] Schaefer called the Eastern Shore “the state’s outhouse” (in not-quite-as-nice terminology), there was a movement for those counties (Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, and Worcester) to secede and start a 51st state called Chesapeake.
“And according to Wikipedia, there were similar proposals for the Eastern Shore in 1833, 1835, 1852, and even 1998 (put forth by State Senators [Richard] Colburn and [Lowell] Stoltzfus) to create a break-away state of Delmarva.”
Maligned and Neglected
Former Rep. Robert E. Bauman, who served the Eastern Shore in both the House of Representatives and state Senate, commented to Maryland Reporter editor Len Lazarick:
“If any area of Maryland has a right to feel neglected it is the Shore, maligned by the late Governor Schaefer as the ‘outhouse’ of Maryland and by H. L. Mencken as ‘booboisie.’ It is viewed by [Governor Martin] O’Malley as a hotbed of Tea Party Republicans who cannot be gerrymandered congressionally, unfortunately from his very partisan perspective.
“In 1972 I sponsored a bill to allow a referendum on the issue in my five Upper Shore counties…. We had a major pro-statehood rally at the State House that drew about a thousand people from all over the Shore, complete with Shore food (oysters, crabs, chicken), music and speeches. Of course the Democrats, led by the late [Eastern Shore] Sen. Fred Malkus, blocked my bill but the publicity contributed to my election to the [U.S.] House in a special election in 1973.
“Research will show that advocacy of Eastern Shore statehood goes back to the 1800s when there were two administrative co-capital cities, one in Annapolis and the other in Easton with separate State Treasurers, Comptrollers and Secretaries of State — and the only transportation connection was by boat.
“When I was asked at the statehood rally by a WTOP reporter what the Eastern Shore state would be called, I replied: ‘Maryland — let those other folks on the western shore get another name.’ ”
Yearning To Be Heard
Indeed, it was a good publicity stunt for Bauman. But it was nothing more. The yearning to be heard and heeded in liberal Annapolis is strong on the conservative Eastern Shore. Conservative Western Marylanders have a similar yearning. Secession talk is a useful way to make that point.
As a separate state, those nine Shore counties could not make it alone.
Six of the counties have poverty rates above 10 percent. Direct aid from Maryland far overshadows what those counties pay in income taxes. Over 3,000 jobs would be lost if Maryland closed its two college campuses and a big prison on the Shore.
Over $360 million in annual spending at those three Maryland facilities would be lost. The new state would have to create a vast new police force to replace the State Troopers now patrolling much of the Shore for the counties east of the Chesapeake Bay.
A far more sensible approach would be to create an entity called Delmarva, consisting of the nine Maryland Eastern Shore counties, the two isolated Virginia counties to the south and the state of Delaware.
It would be an ideal geographic fit: the entire Delmarva Peninsula united as a single government entity.
The poor and sparsely populated Delmarva Virginia counties (45,500 folks) have much in common with their Delmarva neighbors to the north.
It’s a rural farming and fishing region.
All of them are separated from the “mainland” by the nation’s largest estuary, the mighty Chesapeake. Why not join them all together in the re-named state of Delmarva?
What Would Wilmington Say?
There’s no chance of a merger with prosperous Delaware, though. Democrats there rule the state capital and all the congressional offices. There’s no advantage for Wilmington to annex two territories from other states that are far more conservative, Republican and less well off.
Perpetuators of the State of Delmarva myth can’t overcome that reality.
If the new state were limited to the nine Maryland counties, it would be unable to afford current government services without increasing — not decreasing — taxes. The Eastern Shore gets far more in Maryland revenue that it returns to the Annapolis treasury.
So while it’s entertaining to give fanciful secession talk media coverage, it’s wishful thinking — the same kind of day-dream I employ when the multi-state lottery reaches $100 million.
In that dream, I’ve already decided not to take the cash option.
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