In a letter sent to the Maryland General Assembly, Engage Mountain Maryland asked for a full investigation and action to be taken regarding Western Maryland representatives who sought to secede from Maryland to West Virginia in October of this year. Below is that letter.
Dear Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones,
When ludicrous and outlandish behavior ends up national headlines, it can make for a fantastic punchline, but in a recent turn of events, a request for three counties in Maryland to secede and join West Virginia is despicable.
We live in a time of divisive, egregious acts against our nation's democracy. Turning a blind eye or shrugging off bad behavior as a misstep or innocent prank is a government injustice. Maryland has an opportunity to stand up to the flagrant disregard for its citizens and our state.
A deliberate effort orchestrated by six legislators from three Maryland counties to secede and join West Virginia include;
District 1 Senator George C. Edwards (R)
District 1A Del. Wendel Beitzel (R)
District 1B Minority Leader Del. Jason C. Buckel (R)
District 1C Del. Mike McKay (R)
District 2 Del. William J. Wevill (R)
District 2 Del. Brenda J. Thiam (R)
Each of the above signatories sent a letter in October 2021 to West Virginia Senate Speaker Robert Hanshaw and President Craig Blair. The letter stated a desire to redraw Maryland's borders to join West Virginia. Seceding, according to the letter, would benefit both states.
A radical conspiracy has undermined the citizens of Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties. Even county representatives were kept in the dark as a cohort of Western Maryland legislators successfully sought the favor of West Virginia's Governor, Jim Justice to lead the way. In a public address, the governor clumsily lauded the vague benefits of West Virginia and embraced the three counties that appeared to be up for grabs.
Since the Joint Ethics Committee is compromised by Chairman Edwards, who signed the secession request, The General Assembly should determine an appropriate and alternate legislative forum for a thorough investigation into this matter to address the activities of each of the Maryland legislators involved. The General Assembly should investigate this and report on it, accompanied by corrective legislation, by the end of the 2022 session.
These representatives are employed by Maryland taxpayers. Subsidizing a covert and unauthorized removal of three counties from Maryland to West Virginia would be misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars. It is vitally important for the General Assembly to conduct a thorough investigation to determine if Maryland funds, materials, or facilities were used for planning and/or attending these meetings. It is significant, and particularly disturbing, that the clandestine communication in the October 21 letter with the officials of the West Virginia state government, was conducted with the use of official Maryland General Assembly stationery.
This clearly violates the 2021 Ethics Guide, concerning the use of official General Assembly stationery. These rules address the "...proper use of official General Assembly stationary..." and specify that..."As a general rule these resources are to be used only for official General Assembly business and for customary constituent services". (page 21, 2021 Ethics Guide, Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, Maryland General Assembly.) Certainly plans for removing three counties from existing Maryland state jurisdiction and placing them under the jurisdiction of the state of West Virginia, could not be considered "official General Assembly business."
The investigation should also determine if financial or other arrangements were contemplated to benefit any representatives within the West Virginia and/or Maryland governments related to these counties' removal. If misconduct is found, the General Assembly must establish that it recognizes these activities as unacceptable or inappropriate. The fact that these legislators secretly approached West Virginia's leadership is duplicitous, especially while receiving taxpayer monies from the people of Maryland.
Historically, Garrett, Allegany, and Washington Counties have struggled to attract businesses to their jurisdictions. Maryland government has offered rural economic guidance that includes financial programs for capital improvements, tax incentives, and promotional campaigns to entice new business. These substantial investments are made based on long-term goals that should eventually show a return for taxpayers. Most businesses scouting Maryland's western counties are lured by the many rural benefits the state provides. Corporate owners and decision-makers would be wise to avoid Western Maryland if there is a whiff of instability in which jurisdiction they will be setting up shop. The damage from national press stories about Maryland's borders may have already unspun plans in progress.
No elected official, while in office, should be permitted to deconstruct a state they were elected to serve. An investigation, report, and related legislation banning such actions can guard the state's integrity against rogue lawmakers. At least six elected officials need a reminder that meetings, correspondence, or collusion jeopardizing Maryland's boundaries or security are grounds for censure or removal.
Shortly after social media blowback, Delegate Buckel and Senator Edwards withdrew their support for seceding. A compromise solution, according to Buckel, would be offering a non-binding referendum asking voters if seceding from Maryland should be considered. Redrawing the boundaries of Maryland would not be a decision left to its state's residents. This action does not abide by constitutional law and is grossly misleading voters about how state boundaries are established and protected. It further underscores the reckless disregard for Maryland and Federal law from officials who appear to take such serious matters too lightly.
No individual lives in Maryland against their will. If one prefers the governance of another state, one is free to relocate and seek greener pastures. Upending a state's integrity for folly or personal vengeance should not be tolerated or go unchecked. The 2022 Maryland General Assembly should make this matter a priority when the gavel drops in January.
Please let us know if we can do anything to help move this investigation forward.
Mark Stutzman, President
Engage Mountain Maryland