WV Governor Jim Justice asks off-camera crew how to pronounce Garrett county, a part of Maryland he is eager to add to his state.
Garrett, Allegany, and Washington County representatives submitted letters requesting the counties they represent secede from Maryland and join the state of West Virginia. With no evidence whatsoever, the request states the action would be beneficial to both states.
In a public address on October 22, 2021, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice welcomed the idea and boasted how much his state could offer to the over 250,000 citizens who would be included in the land acquisition.
Delegate Wendel Beitzel serves Garrett and part of Allegany County in the Maryland House. Senior Senator George Edwards, represents Garrett, Allegany, and Washington County's, his state's (for now) three westernmost counties. The Western Maryland Delegation combined their interests with other representatives from the three counties in the letters to the West Virginia Senate speaker Speaker Robert Hanshaw and President Craig Blair dated October 2021.
West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell noted that talks had already begun before the news went public. Led by Beitzel, delegates from Maryland requested to visit Charleston to meet with President Blair, Speaker Hanshaw, and Howell.
“We gave him a presentation and they took it back home and they said, ‘You know, we think this is what’s good for our people back home," said Howell. "We want to become part of West Virginia. We see the goodness that’s going on in West Virginia and we want to be part of it."
Maryland is listed as the 15th wealthiest state in the Union based on the 2021 nominal Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) rankings. West Virginia ranks well below at 47 with 16 percent of the population living in poverty. According to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia lost a higher percentage of its residents than any other state in the nation. From 2010 to 2020, the population dropped 3.2 percent, or about 59,000 people. Reasons for leaving included lack of employment opportunities, nothing to do, and poor broadband connectivity. Because of the population decline, West Virginia was one of seven states to lose a congressional seat following the 2020 census.
Education can be a principal factor when choosing residency. Rankings place Maryland schools at 14 in the nation and West Virginia schools at 45. Anyone seeking entry level employment opportunities may also find The Old Line State more appealing. Marylander legislators recently raised the state minimum wage to $11.75 compared to West Virginia's current rate of $8.75.
Beitzel, a mineral rights owner, was a proponent to allow fracking in Maryland which is permitted in West Virginia. His support for the controversial drilling technique raised public outrage within the district he represents sparking protests and seven hours of citizen testimony in Annapolis opposing the bill. The Maryland General Assembly with support from Republican Governor Hogan approved a ban to prohibit horizontal drilling in the state. Beitzel recalled the ban in an interview with the New York Times as one reason to secede to West Virginia.
This left-field request would require a Herculean lift by lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly. Boundary changes between states require the approval of each state's legislature and the approval of Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court settles boundary disputes between states. It is unknown if Maryland legislators would willingly relinquish its rural assets they have invested in heavily. These include acres of farmland, natural resources, state parks, and recreation destinations. Maryland is often called America In Minature due to the diverse landscape from the shores of the Atlantic to the Appalachian Mountains.
Following fiery backlash over the announcement, Minority Leader Delegate Jason Buckel of Allegany County and Senator George Edwards posted a statement on Facebook withdrawing their support of the letter they signed.
"I believe that our intentions have been misconstrued and that in fact, the entire effort may be foolhardy," Buckel said. "I frankly was not in a position to give this initiative my full attention over the last week and believe that I did not have the opportunity to truly analyze the various documents or their import."
Buckel went on to deny attending any meetings or engaging in conversation with representativ