Idaho Should Cease To Exist

This is part of a series for what western states should do. They range from serious to facetious. This falls in the latter category as there is virtually no chance of it happening due to the senate ramifications and/or the willingness of other states to bring in a part of the Gem State. But it should!

The thing is, Idaho already isn’t a state. Yes, they have a governor and two senators. They have a state legislature. They have a state government. What they don’t have is any semblance of state identity. Some states are split between urban and rural, north and south, or east and west. Idaho is split in three ways, though, and in each of the cases they have more in common and more regularly transact with neighboring states than they do with one another. Pocatello’s capital isn’t Boise, it’s Salt Lake City. Lewiston’s capital isn’t Boise, it’s Spokane. Boise’s capital is Boise, and Boise is the capital of the rest only on a technicality.

In the case of Eastern Idaho, it’s not only closer to SLC than it is Boise, and more tied to SLC because there are more services and larger economy, but it’s also very Mormon, culturally speaking. The most Mormon county in the country is not in Utah, but rather in Idaho. Pocatello is a slight exception to this, due to its union roots, willingness to vote Democratic, and the university that’s there. But it’s only a slight exception. And even most Pocatellans are more strongly anchored to Salt Lake City than Boise. They may not be as Mormon themselves, but they are still captive of Mormon culture. Idaho Falls is notably more Mormon, and Rexburg (home of BYU-Idaho) even moreso.

In the case of Southwestern Idaho, it more-or-less revolves around Boise. Boise is a different bird from the rest of Idaho in a number of respects.

Northern Idaho is far more isolated than the other two. Not just by culture, but by the map itself. Anyone who has made the drive from Couer d’Alene to Boise will attest what a horrible drive it is. Except for the fact that the state government is located there, there is far more reason to go to Spokane to meet your metropolitan needs. Northern Idaho is also blocked from Eastern Idaho because vast swaths of the middle of the state are national parks with limited road development. To get from Northern Idaho to Eastern Idaho, chances are you’re going through Montana.

Now, there are parts of Idaho that don’t fit neatly into any of the three sections of the state. Namely, Salmon, Sun Valley and Twin Falls. Sun Valley and Twin Falls are somewhat tied together and would do just as well being placed with Southwestern Idaho. They’re a bit of the odd-men-out there, but they’re not Mormon like Eastern Idaho. Sun Valley is also liberal and would probably prefer to be placed with Boise than the Mormons. So even though it would be outlying, it fits well enough. Salmon… is remote. It’s relatively Mormon, so it goes with Eastern Idaho.

Now, we can’t just split Idaho into three states because what about the senate?! This is where it gets complicated. Putting Eastern Idaho in with Utah makes the most amount of sense. Allowing Southwestern to fold in with Oregon would be one possibility, or perhaps allowing it to be its own state and taking some of Oregon with it. An Oregon that stretches from the Pacific to Twin Falls could be unwieldy. Montana gets by, but only barely. Western Oregonians might be more than content to hand off some of its Eastern Oregon bumpkins to someone else. You could do the same with Northern Idaho. You can pass it off to Montana or Washington (the latter making more sense), or you can take some land from each and let Spokane be a capital (it’s self-important enough to believe it is owed to them, after all). It all depends on how worried we are about the senate ramifications.

One way or another, though, Idaho ought to go.


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Insert obligatory Your Own Private Idaho reference.

    It would be interesting if we could rejigger the states every now and then. I’m fond of Wesley Powell’s idea that states in the west should be arranged around river drainages not arbitrary lines in the wilderness.

    • If I were doing the Trumanverse map all over again, I’d probably use Powell’s boundaries.

      On the other hand, Powell assumed a lack of water management and leaving most of the west be. That they named a reservoir after him is the height of irony.

      Really, it’s mountain ranges that we should have been looking at. More than anything else, that’s what keeps people apart. Or the combination of mountains and water. I mention northern and southern Idaho, but the same is true of Utah. It’s much more straightforward, but you still have a less-than-pleasant journey (except for the fact it’s friggin’ gorgeous) to get from the more habitable northern part to the habitable southern part.

      • The west isn’t unique in that regard. I mean… the state boundaries are just historical accidents, really. No particular rhyme or reason to it. Maybe it’s my blue-collar version of a cosmopolitan profession. Maybe it’s the eleven states I’ve lived in since high school and the only real difference between them was the color of the driver’s licenses. You have your regional cultures but they don’t often break at state lines so much.

        So it’s hard for me to get real excited over “state’s rights” and such. We like to pretend that our states have sovereignty similar to nations in their own right and that the U.S. is just a little more unified than, say, the European Union. But that’s bullshit. Apart from the original 13 colonies, the only states that had any kind of significant sovereignty prior to statehood were the Republic of Texas, the Kingdom of Hawaii, and, briefly, Vermont and California (like for 12 days). They’re really just glorified administrative districts; just the next division up from counties is all.

        • Well, along the lines the decision was made that the admitted states would get the same treatment as existing. If they knew how settlement patterns would go and thought ahead, some of the borders would be different (the video above touches on this). Anyhow, they might be better off as administrative districts, but it was decided pretty early on that they were something else.

          Which I think was a good call. I am a fan of federalism. Even in states with distinct cultural divides, where half has more in common with one adjacent state and the other with another adjacent state (or a non-adjacent one), it breaks down the states into fewer components. Western Washington has to take Eastern into account and vice-versa. And the result is that the spinoffs often (though certainly not always) result in states that should be the same (like Idaho and Montana) ending up with somewhat different characters – for better and worse. I consider this to be a positive, though there are limits to how separated we want the states to be (the Eurozone being demonstrative of everything that was wrong with the Articles of Confederation – not to mention our troubles when we had it).

          But broadly speaking, I like a degree of autonomy for states to address their own issues. The county level has its plusses (I’m frankly not sure if cities serve much purpose), but I consider states to be a valuable intermediary between local and national interests, even when they don’t have quite a distinct character.

          Sometimes, of course, they do. Louisiana and Utah being prime examples. Neither are perfect, of course. Louisiana is split in two and the northern part has more in common with Arkansas and East Texas. That was not for lack of effort. They more or less drew the line where the French stopped. It just so happened that the French continued into areas where they were (or would be) outnumbered.

          Utah of course has a unique history due to very specific settlers setting up dominion from the start. It spills over into bordering states, and increasingly Salt Lake City is distinct from the rest of the state, but… it’s a place like no other.

          • But broadly speaking, I like a degree of autonomy for states to address their own issues.

            In principal, I don’t disagree at all. It would just make more sense if the state boundaries were drawn up in such a way that a particular state would actually have interests that were distinct from it’s neighbors in a meaningful way.

            Take my home state, Kansas, for example. The eastern third could be an easy fit geographically and culturally with Western Missouri. The western two thirds has a lot more in common with eastern Colorado and SW Nebraska. And Colorado east of the Front Range is a completely different territory than the western half. And all this has consequences. The three states have been conducting legal war over water rights for I don’t even know how long now. It’s just a perpetual thing. And ultimately it’s all because the borders are these totally arbitrary historical artifacts of straight lines in the middle of geographic homogeneity.

            FWIW, the original Kansas Territory extended west to the Rockies but it was cut off because they didn’t want to deal with mineral rights or something–at least that’s the story I remember. God only knows what they were thinking because otherwise Denver would our western terminus.

  2. Anyone who has made the drive from Couer d’Alene to Boise will attest what a horrible drive it is.

    You should try it in a semi sometime. And for some unknown reason our company has a terminal in Lewiston. It’s only purpose seems to be to service a paper mill there. It makes about as much sense as an NFL team in Green Bay, WI.

    To your larger point, Idaho just looks like the leftover scraps after the surrounding states took whatever territory pleased them.

    • You should try it in a semi sometime.

      Nooooo thanks. Driving it behind a semi is bad enough.

      To your larger point, Idaho just looks like the leftover scraps after the surrounding states took whatever territory pleased them.

      Idaho was supposed to look different, including the portion of Montana to the west of the divide. Then there was a pissed off judge who was named a territorial governor who had a lot of pull.

      Had that been the case, you still would have had a north-south problem unless you built an Interstate through Church. It’s just that the north would be beefier than it is. It worked out just as well, though. It would have cut substantially into Montana’s already unremarkable population, Beyond that, Washington-Idaho is far more accessible than Idaho-Montana. And in Montana, we’ve created a state where the residents think driving four hours to get somewhere is normal.

      What do you think of Lewiston? It seems to have a very… non-plus reputation.

      • Nooooo thanks. Driving it behind a semi is bad enough.

        Yeah… knowing we’re pissing off a bunch of 4-wheelers is the only thing that making that 25-mph pull up (and down!) a mountain tolerable. 😉

        What do you think of Lewiston? It seems to have a very… non-plus reputation.

        Haven’t spent any time out in town there; just in and out for a load of paper. So… no opinion really, other than it’s a pain in the ass to get to and from.

  3. > Anyone who has made the drive from Couer d’Alene to Boise
    > will attest what a horrible drive it is.

    So attested.

    I can’t wait to see the rest of them. California, of course, should split up.

    • I’ve got squat on California. I have ignorant opinions, of course, but the thought of voicing them makes me realize that there are others that know a lot more about the state than I do and my ignorance would be quickly exposed.

      If you’re interested, we could do a posting switcharoo. You can explain how Cali should be split up, and I can write on something Mindivy.

    • I have addressed the issue of California breaking up before. My proposal is here. Although after seeing this I might modify the proposal further and lop off the top of the proposed new state of Sierra and let the locals there be the state of Jefferson since that’s what they want.

      • That’s… remarkably close to what I would have written.

  4. You once mentioned (at Leaguefest?) a book about how the states came to have the boundaries they do. What’s the title of that book? I’d be really interested in it.

      • Different book, actually. The above is about proposed states that weren’t. A fascinating and whimsy read (there is a chapter on Albania). The book I was referring to was this one. That one includes the tidbit about how Idaho got its shape, the angry judge that caused it, and why the borders go from parallel to geological and back again.

  5. In college, I met a kid from Idaho. He was from Coeur d’Alene, which is the only reason I even know that place exists. We had some interesting conversations, most notably were…

    A) The time I asked him what the nearest cities were. He spoke about Spokane, which seemed odd to me given that I had no idea WA and ID bordered each other. He also spoke about making the 8 hour trip each way to Boise to go out for one night. 16 hours of driving for one night. In Boise. Wow.
    B) The time he asked me what my town’s local “industry” was. Growing up outside NYC, this was one of the more foreign questions someone would ask me. “Business, I guess? I have no idea. What’s yours?” “Timber,” he replied. “Oh, we don’t have anything like that where I’m from.” I don’t know who was more confused.

    Also, doing some quick Google Mapping, it appears that the quickest drive from CDA to Boise involves driving 80 miles out of the way through WA. You can get between the two without leaving ID but it appears to be much slower. Do they not have highways in Idaho?

    • The highways in Northern Idaho are very three-dimensional, you might say.

      • Like a hill? I mean, I live on a hill and I hardly see how that could make a difference. Sure, your ball might roll down the hill if it catches it just right and was kicked hard enough. But probably not. Hills ain’t shit.

        • LOL!! You’re serious, aren’t you? Yes they have hills; mountains actually. And hair-pin turns and all sorts of fun.

          Basically a road from point A to point B that might be 50 miles as the crow flies probably takes about 100 miles to drive.

          • Serious indeed.

            I actually recently moved to “the mountains”, though we are talking peaks of no more than 1200 feet. There are some areas of the map that we’ll look at and bemoan the fact that we’re driving 8 miles to get 3 miles away. I couldn’t imagine doing that over far greater distances. That’s just nuts!

            Once, I was supposed to meet a friend at a restaurant I hadn’t yet been to. When I asked for directions, he said, “Go over two mountains and then turn right.” I told him to go fuck himself and to get back to me when he could offer distances in miles, stop lights, blocks, or some other non-asinine unit of measurement. Two mountains??? SERIOUSLY?!?!

    • It’s a coin-flip between going east through Washington and Oregon and going on 55. The former is better if you want to be able to drive at zippy speeds. The latter is so much more beautiful, if you can see through your searing hatred of Rod, driving in front of you.

      Highways are obstructed by the existence of *a lot* of natural parks that they weren’t allowed to just dynamite through.

      My wife and I were, at one point, looking at relocating near the Washington-Idaho border. The job was in Washington, and Washington has a better tax environment by far. A part of us leaned towards living on the Idaho side solely because if we told people we lived in Washington, they’d just naturally place us in Seattle and get the wrong idea of where we lived. Mention Idaho and they might assume Boise or ruralia (or assume Boise is ruralia) and be closer to understanding where we live. People forget that there’s a Washington away from the Puget Sound.

      • You’re safe on 55. No big trucks allowed, except maybe loggers, IDK. I have to go west to Ontario then up US 95. You can start hating me at New Meadows and then split off again at Grangeville. Maybe 90 miles or so of rage.

      • I live 45 minutes from the GWB. Most people think I live in Buffalo. Or Albany. They don’t realize that NYC makes up like, 1% of the land area of NY. Also, they have no idea where Buffalo or Albany is. Even if I point out how close I am to the city, they still think it is reasonable to assume I live near one of those two places that are hours away. Basically, everything north of the Bronx is “Upstate”. For some folks, it is everything north of 96th street.

        • 45 minutes from the GWB? Dude, that’s not just upstate. That’s out with the hicks in the sticks. Do you keep livestock? Is electric service reliable out there; you truck in propane or do you have to split logs like Abe Lincoln for firewood?

          …I mean, that’s practically Connecticut.

          • I’m still trying to figure out how to flush the septic tank.

            “You mean we don’t have sewers? There is just a giant tub of shit under my house?!?!”

            Though, we are going away from Connecticut. We’re damn near in Canada. Truth be told, I’d rather be Canadian than Connecticutian.

        • I live 45 minutes from the GWB.

          He’s probably a good guy and all, but that would be too close for me.

          • I have to confess, when I first read that, I was stunned to hear that Kazzy lives near Dallas. I thought, as an adopted Houstonian, I was going to be obligated to hate him for a minute. Wait, he’s from New York? Well there we go.

          • Next your going to say you’re not really 5ish and that’s not your hat.

    • It depends, really. Having mostly likeminded people makes governing easier. It makes it easier for everyone to be in it together. Really, the biggest thing for Idaho is the geographic breakage. With other states, there’s more a sense of what is good for this region of the state being good for that region. With Idaho, what’s good for Spokane is arguably as good for Couer d’Alene as what is good for Boise being so.

      • Seriously, that is sort of the situation with NY. I was recently explaining to a friend that its sort of really important that NYC isn’t the capital. If state politics were centered in Manhattan… well, talk about out of touch. For a while, the NYT Editorial Page would occasionally include a “Notes from Upstate” or some such piece, usually with a shitty graphic of a tree or leaf or cow or something. I’m not even sure they do that anymore…

  6. I have a friend who moved to Boise last year. He hates it because it’s so overwhelmingly Mormon; the majority of people he works with, at a community college, are Mormom. I know Boise isn’t Rexburg, and it has a lot of outdoorsy types; mountain biker/kayaker types. But I’m wondering if you’re downplaying the Mormon element, or if it just seems so overwhelmingly oppressive to my friend because he lives such an unclean life (compared to Mormons, that is)?

    • This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that about Boise. Mormon adherents comprise of about 15% of the population in Ada County. I am not unsympathetic. They always seem more present than they are. For comparison, they’re 45% in Bannock County (Pocatello), 54% in Bonneville County (Idaho Falls), 82% in Madison County (Rexburg), and 91% in Franklin County (Preston, where “Napoleon Dynamite” took place).

      They make their cultural presence known wherever they are in large numbers, so I sympathize with your friend’s plight. Especially when it’s like you meet someone, you get along with them, and then you realize you are unlikely to be friends because they’re LDS. It doesn’t take many times of running into that before resentment and/or frustration creeps in.

      • I think you’ve got it right. And I suspect having several office mates who are Mormons probably influences my friend’s estimate of how dominant they are.

        • Decades ago, I lived in Salt Lake City for a few months, working on a contract. As places to live when you don’t know anyone there go, it was OK: clean, safe, mixed bag of restaurants (great steaks, but nothing at all exotic; even what they called Mexican food was bland), great public library [1], etc. The main problem was finding something to do at night. It’s not that Mormons aren’t friendly or good co-workers; it’s that their personal lives revolve around family and Church in a way that doesn’t include Gentiles.

          The only off-hours recreation I found was going to bars. Public establishments could serve 3.2 beer; anything stronger required the formality of paying $5 to join a “private” club, ad there was a good assortment of both. The result was that I’ve never in my life spent as much time drinking as I did in Salt Lake.

          1. It included a complete collection of Philip K. Dick’s mainstream novels. Most of which are pretty bad, but it’s still a cool thing for a library to have.

  7. Of course the only problem being is that you can’t just throw eastern Idaho into Utah because Utah itself is just as diverse. I.F. really isn’t that Mormon actually, but the surrounding cities and towns are. Just like in Utah, Salt Lake City is not that Mormon either and you can’t combine Idaho and SLC because the city folk there have no idea what the farmers here stand for. You’d have to divide Utah in half and throw eastern Idaho in with the lower half of Utah, which geographically doesn’t make sense either.

    There is more diversity here than you think.

    • I.F. really isn’t that Mormon actually

      Well, depends on what you’re comparing it to, I suppose. IF itself is slightly diluted because of INL and EITC and some of the other employers drawing people in from Montana, but outside of Pocatello (and, arguably, including Pocatello) the church is the dominant social institution.

      I don’t consider rural/urban to be quite as big a problem since I consider some balance to be helpful (and some dilution of greater Salt Lake’s influence), though I do understand the concern (I don’t see Boise as being particularly better – I’d let southern Idaho sit if it weren’t for the substantial social disconnect – Montana is the best fit as far as that goes, but that doesn’t work geographically/geologically). The cultural connection between Eastern Idaho to Salt Lake remains stronger than that of Boise, by my observation having lived along the I-15 corridor.

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