I just returned from a pleasant trip to the mountains and rivers of Garrett County to the dismaying news that a group of conservative Republicans want Garrett and four other Maryland counties to break away and form the 51st state so they can live happily ever after.
I spoke Monday to the leader of what's called the Western Maryland Initiative. Scott Strzelczyk is his name. He doesn't like the word "secession." He's talking about something different — the formation of a new state out of five counties. The U.S. Constitution allows regions to separate with approval from the state legislature and Congress. There are similar efforts around the country. West Virginia is the last state to successfully break away from another, and that was 150 years ago.
That's what Strzelczyk has in mind.
He no longer wants to be part of the Maryland associated with Prince Georges County, Baltimore City and Montgomery County. Being a Republican, he's miserable. The Democrats control the Maryland General Assembly, hold all statewide offices and, he says, gerrymandered legislative and Congressional districts. The state has only one Republican member of Congress, Andy Harris.
"The entire state is controlled basically by three jurisdictions," Strzelczyk said. "That's not representative government. ... We don't think this government can be fixed."
The solution? Form your own state.
I guess that's easier than a voter registration drive.
Strzelczyk's group believes the people of Western Maryland are fed up with Democratic dominance and they want Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties to break away and form a new state, perhaps called West Maryland.
According to a blog that he writes, Strzelczyk is "a constitutionalist concerned with the legitimate role of the federal government and the infringement of our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property." He is a software consultant, conservative activist and father of five children. He's 49 and lives in New Windsor, which is a lovely place in Carroll County. I don't know why anyone who lives in New Windsor would complain about anything, but Strzelczyk has a lot of gripes about life in Maryland.
He ran through his list for me, and they were familiar:
The Democrats rigged the 6th Congressional district with a big chunk of liberal Montgomery County to guarantee the election last fall of John Delaney, depriving Western Maryland voters of an 11th term of representation by the 86-year-old Roscoe Bartlett of Buckeystown.
The "flush tax," which helps pay for improvements to wastewater systems to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
The regulation of new housing and septic systems. That's part of the so-called "war against rural Maryland," with Democrats in Annapolis devilishly devising all kinds of limits on farms and the development of land.
The new storm water fee. (Of the five Maryland counties in this fledgling secession movement, only Frederick County and Carroll County must assess the so-called "rain tax." Both counties have thumbed their noses at it; Carroll commissioners voted against charging homes and businesses a new fee while Frederick commissioners voted to charge only a penny per year.)
It's a whole lot of that something-for-nothing libertarianism we get from the Tea Party.
I don't know about anyone else around here, but I'd have a hard time giving up Western Maryland. It's too nice for a bunch of grumps.
There's all kinds of neat, rustic stuff there — good fishing, hunting, hiking, skiing, not to mention excellent kettle corn and a fantastic candy store right near Deep Creek Lake.
There are Amish and Mennonite people, and they make quilts and auction them off at the Garrett County fairgrounds every August. One year I saw a farmer and a Mennonite woman in a bonnet making ice cream with a John Deere tractor. It was pretty cool. They had the tractor's power shaft hitched to a refrigeration unit and a mixer inside a large vat. From that vat came some of the richest, creamiest ice cream ever. They had a chicken barbecue, too, and a gospel boy-band and a petting zoo with emus.
I like the town of Accident and even coined a bumper sticker for it: "A Town Waiting To Happen."
If you haven't seen Swallow Falls or Muddy Falls, it should be on your Maryland bucket list.
I went fishing in Grantsville once while the children of an Amish farmer rolled up their pants and hitched up their dresses to splash in the cool water of the Casselman River. I thought I was in a scene from "Little House On The Prairie."
So, to think of that part of the state no longer being part of Maryland — well, forget about it.
Still, it's a free country, a constitutional democracy. If the people behind the Western Maryland Initiative want to spend their time pressing for secession — instead of, say, trying to bring the Republican Party into the 21st Century, recruiting new candidates, registering new voters — have at it, fellas.
But I think it's easier just to move to the Idaho panhandle, or southern Pennsylvania.
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.