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Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Some GOP senators want Eastern Washington as a state unto itself

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA — If Washington state Sen. Bob Morton has his way, he'll soon be a resident and lawmaker in the 51st state of the United States.

The Republican is the prime sponsor of a measure that asks for a new state to be created east of the Cascade Mountains, using 20 of the current state's 39 counties.

Though the measure has little chance of becoming a reality, it's a further sign of frustration between Washington's east and west that became more apparent during the recent contested governor's race.

Morton argues that Eastern Washington has its own distinct culture, lifestyle and agriculture-driven economy. And he says growth development restrictions and other regulations imposed by Western Washington politicians and bureaucrats put a stranglehold on his area.

"It's not sour grapes. It's common sense," he said. "People who think alike should be united."

Bitterness over the red-blue divide in the state only increased after the governor's race. Eastern Washington overwhelmingly voted for Republican candidate Dino Rossi, only to see Democrat Christine Gregoire pull ahead in a hand recount thanks to strong support in King County, where one-third of the state's voters live.

"We elected Rossi. King County elected Gregoire," said Republican state Sen. Bob McCaslin.

Movements to change state lines and sovereignty are nothing new. Activists in Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have long pushed for statehood, while Los Angeles has beaten back frequent secession measures to split off Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Last year, residents of the Vermont ski town Killington were so angry about what they called oppressive taxes that they voted to secede and join New Hampshire. Such complaints also prompted the New Jersey town of Verona to threaten to secede from Essex County. Neither plan is likely to be carried out.

If Morton's measure ever gets through the Legislature, it would take an act of Congress to form a new state according to Article IV of the U.S. Constitution.

Though nine other Republican senators support Morton's measure for an as-yet unnamed state, similar bills have been introduced in past years without success and no one expects this year's version to have any traction.

Only one Democrat from Western Washington has signed on to Morton's bill. Democratic Sen. Adam Kline said Western Washington would be better off without a part of the state that he said gets more than its share of tax money.

"I would like as much as possible for revenue generated in Western Washington to stay in Western Washington," he said.

Other Democrats disagree.

"The ideological differences that (Morton is) talking about are present everywhere, within every county, within every neighborhood," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who represents one of the few Democratic pockets in Eastern Washington.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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