Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Mexit: Maryland panhandle looks for Almost Heaven

Leaders from three Western Maryland panhandle counties have reached out to West Virginia about the possibility of becoming part of the Mountain State.

No, really.

As our Brad McElhinny reported, “In a short statement, the Maryland lawmakers say they seek ‘to open dialogue and request consideration of the possibilities of these three Maryland counties (Allegany, Garrett and Washington) to be added as constituent counties to the State of West Virginia. This letter is generated as a result of various constituent requests over the years.’ ”

Western Maryland has always suffered from the insecurities that go along with being a panhandle. (The residents of West Virginia’s northern and eastern panhandles know all about that.) They feel like an outlier, different geographically and politically from the rest of the state, especially the urban areas of Baltimore and metropolitan Washington, D.C.

The statehouse in Annapolis is dominated by Democrats. They outnumber Republicans two to one in both chambers. But Maryland’s western panhandle counties are solid red. Donald Trump only received 32% of the vote statewide in Maryland in the 2020 election, but he carried the three western counties by an average of 69%.

Several Western Maryland legislators apparently have had enough of the disconnect and they see greener pastures on the south side of the Potomac River. “We believe this arrangement may be mutually beneficial for both states and for our local constituencies,” the legislators wrote.

Those legislators have been rendered powerless in the Maryland statehouse. A prime example is how Democrats have gerrymandered the 6th Congressional District to lump heavily Democratic Montgomery County in with western Maryland to guarantee a Democratic Congressman.

If Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties moved to West Virginia, those lawmakers would be part of the Republican super majorities in both chambers and further ensure that their Congressional representative would be Republican.

West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral), who led an unsuccessful effort last year to try to convince Frederick County, Va., to become part of the Mountain State, said the Maryland switch would make perfect sense.

“We would welcome these counties,” Howell said. “These counties are more like West Virginia than they are the rest of Maryland.”

That is true. However, county secession has tried and failed elsewhere in the country. Counties are creations of the state, and it is unlikely a state is going to give up any of its property. Additionally, the logistical hurdles are almost insurmountable.

Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason University, wrote on the subject, “What would be the policy of state universities? What about parks, state prisons, water laws, state-highway maintenance and tax policies?”

Maybe the western Maryland lawmakers just want someone to pay attention to them, since their own colleagues in Annapolis won’t. That’s understandable. And on behalf of West Virginia, I want to invite those lawmakers to visit us in the Mountain State.

But whether that visit is next week or 20 years from now, they will always have to cross the state line to get here.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.