Cumberland Times-News

September 17, 2013

Local officials concerned about secession movement

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Two county commissioners in far Western Maryland are concerned about the impact and publicity that talk of secession is gaining, leading to hostile reactions in other parts of the state.

They say public officials aren’t behind the talk, oppose the idea and haven’t been asked about the question by some of those who have written about the topic in newspapers and other media.

“We have never had a conversation about this. ... The unfortunate thing is some people in the central and more urban areas of the state think we are out here pushing this,” said Garrett County Commissioner Jim Raley.

Considering the obscurity of the group pushing the idea, it has received enormous publicity, Raley said.

Some of the articles imply that the state’s five westernmost counties are in support of the idea, which simply isn’t true, local officials said.

What’s interesting to us ... none of us (public officials) have been asked to weigh in on it,” said Raley.

“I certainly believe there are issues ... on which the citizens of Western Maryland don’t agree with the state,” Raley said. “But our region has been very fortunate as part of the state of Maryland.”

He said many citizens in the larger urban and suburban areas of the state come to Garrett County and spend money, aiding the local economy.

“We have an amicable relationship with the state,” Raley said. “Many citizens of Garrett County don’t get Maryland television and don’t realize what a hornet’s nest this has become.”

Raley even dismissed the secession talk at first, but is now concerned it’s doing damage to the region. He said he began to realize the negative impact when a constituent told him of a call from an acquaintance in an urban region concerned about the movement and why it was receiving support.

The organization pushing for secession is the Western Maryland Initiative, led by Scott Strzelczyk. The group wants the counties to secede and form their own state, according to The Associated Press.

An Allegany County commissioner also opposes the idea.

“I do not believe the movement has any likelihood of success. The movement is more of a distraction and is taking away valuable time from the issues facing Western Maryland,” said Allegany County Commissioner Michael McKay.

McKay, though, does understand why the movement might have appeal to some residents of the area.

“The secession movement has pulled on the emotions of many Western Marylanders because of the overall lack of respect shown to rural residents in counties like Allegany. We, the state of Maryland, need to get back to the philosophy of ‘One Maryland,’” McKay said.

The five counties — Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll — represent just 11 percent of Maryland’s population, but the majority of their registered voters are Republicans in a heavily Democratic state, according to The AP.

“If you don’t belong in their party,” Strzelczyk said of Democrats, “you’ll never have your views represented” in Maryland. “If we have more states,” he said, “we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along.”

Approval of both the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress would be required to approve secession.

McKay said the movement is a distraction to the real issues facing Western Maryland.

“Instead of wasting time on this non starter, I would rather focus on building relationships that will produce fruits to change the appearance Maryland is being viewed as less than friendly to businesses, taxpayers, drivers, sportsmen, families, farmers. ... This must stop. Talking about secession only gets in the way. I completely understand the frustration but, at the end of the day, it is easier to get flies with honey than a baseball bat. Respect and common sense must prevail,” McKay said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.