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Leaders in Maryland counties explore swiping right on West Virginia

Representatives of three Maryland counties are saying Montani Semper Liberi. 

Legislators from Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties submitted a letter to West Virginia legislative leaders to explore the possibility of jumping the border.

Terrapins are always free.

Don’t take this as a land grab or a secession just yet. It’s by no means a done deal.

Gary Howell

“These three counties in Maryland, we would welcome these counties. This is the first step. It’s early in the process if it even does happen. These counties are more like West Virginia than they are the rest of Maryland,” said West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, who has been a part of the discussions.

It is, however, a starting point for an interesting possibility. And it’s intriguing enough that it received coverage today in The Baltimore Sun newspaper.

In a short statement, the Maryland lawmakers say they seek “to open dialogue and request consideration of the possibility of these three Maryland counties 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.”

Two letters were sent to West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.

They came from delegates William Wivell of Washington County and Mike McKay of Washington and Allegany counties as well as Senator George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel, representing both Garrett and Allegany, and Jason Buckel of Allegany County. All are Republicans.

Writing of the possibility of joining up with West Virginia, they said “We believe this arrangement may be mutually beneficial for both states and for our local constituencies.”

The three counties in western Maryland border West Virginia and are more mountainous and rural than their state’s urban population centers. The most populated town in the region, Hagerstown, is in Washington County. All three are within the swath covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Maryland’s western counties nestle with West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, in equilibrium just below the Pennsylvania line in such a way that no professional planner would have designed.

The cousins could be comfortable uniting, Howell said.

“You could easily compare Garrett to Preston County, Allegany to Mineral and Washington to Berkeley,” said West Virginia’s Howell, making a comparison that Mountain State residents could understand.

This was all prompted by invitations that went out last year from West Virginia officials to counterparts in Virginia.

In that case, the invitation went to neighboring Frederick County, Va., one of three Virginia counties that was invited to join West Virginia in 1862 by the reformed government of Virginia, then headquartered in Wheeling, W.Va., after Virginia seceded from the Union.

Berkeley and Jefferson counties voted to join West Virginia, while Frederick County right where it was.  A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1870 that affirmed West Virginia as a state suggested the invitation to Frederick County to join West Virginia remained valid.

West Virginia Delegate Howell took that possibility and ran with it, sponsoring a resolution “Admitting certain counties and independent cities of the Commonwealth of Virginia to the State of West Virginia as constituent counties.”

Howell soon found himself chatting with conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck followed by an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The Virginia invitation hasn’t taken root, but now Maryland is an inkling.

Yet it’s also likely a complicated process to ever reach fruition.

“West Virginia’s process is fairly straightforward. Our constitution allows us to take on new territory with the consent of the Legislature and a vote of the people,” Howell said.

Mike McKay

But untangling what the process might be in Maryland is a whole other matter.

“First you have to knock on the door and see if the person is willing to answer before we can discuss how it would work out,” Maryland legislator McKay told The Baltimore Sun.

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