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In an increasingly polarized America, it seems something has to give.
Vicious battles play out between hardcore leftists and committed conservatives, with jurisdictions ping-ponging back and forth depending on who ekes out a narrow majority.
Anyone who crosses below the 50% mark is left out in the cold as second-class citizens. That’s left huge geographical swaths of people feeling like they’re living under the thumb of people with little in common with them, from the eastern Oregon counties who are tired of being ignored by a Portland-dominated legislature and want to move the state border so they’re part of Idaho, to Austin liberals surrounded by swaths of red in Texas.
Some had an idea: like the founding fathers, boldly declaring independence and establishing a new government of and for the people, one controlled close to home rather than trying to broker peace with people many miles away as part of a geographically large one.
It’s an idea that makes sense. Some want progressive government; some want small government. If we are never able to agree, so why not have physically smaller governments, where each can be run according to the preferences of immediate residents?
In 2017, there were nearly 400 cities or towns that did not exist in 2002, according to a Daily Wire review of Census data. And that number could be growing.
In Atlanta, the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood funds much of the city, but patience is wearing thin with a city government that seems to have nothing in common with them — taking their money, declining to prosecute shoplifting in their stores, and leaving their residents the target of vicious attacks.
A group in Buckhead wants a “divorce” from Atlanta, and legislation has been introduced that would amount to the neighborhood seceding from Atlanta and forming its own government, Buckhead City, with its own tax structure and police force.
Another area near Atlanta, the city of Sandy Springs, succeeded in incorporating independently in 2005 after fighting Atlanta’s attempts to annex it for 35 years. The new city established its own police and fire departments and in a particularly unusual move hired several private firms to provide most other city services. Since then, Sandy Springs has enjoyed a population boom.
In 2019, residents of an affluent suburb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, voted to secede from their local government and establish the new city of St. George, which will become the fifth-largest city in Louisiana upon incorporation. The new city will not be completely severed from the Baton Rouge local government, but it will have its own mayor.
Supporters of the split said they were motivated by the desire for an independent school district, but opponents accused them of racism, suggesting that they wanted to distance the area’s mostly white students from the majority black students in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. Even though the new city was approved, the proposal has been caught up in legal entanglements since before the coronavirus pandemic.
Sagaponack, a beach village considered to be the most expensive neighborhood in the Hamptons, incorporated in 2005 to get out from under the thumb of the Town of Southampton. Residents of Sagaponack, which has a median listing home price of about $9 million, complained that they received few services for what they paid. The police presence was low since the village’s crime rate was close to zero, and despite hefty tax bills, the highway department left potholes all over the place, residents said.
In 1998, a part of the town of Calabash, North Carolina, voted to secede from the town, citing several issues including sewer, garbage collection, and sign restrictions. The state approved residents’ request to have a referendum on the issue. After voters approved it, the area said goodnight to Calabash and became the new town of Carolina Shores. That split did not completely separate the communities, however, as the towns still share fire and emergency services.
Liberty Lake, Washington, in Spokane County successfully broke away from the county in 2001 to form its own city.
Residents of the area fought for incorporation after they became dissatisfied with Spokane County’s police force, which they felt was not able to respond in time to Liberty Lake, which is in the easternmost part of the county near the Idaho border. The city formed its own police force after incorporation. Residents also complained about poor street maintenance, an issue that was also addressed after incorporation.
“Being the farthest east portion of the county, I think people felt like they were kind of an afterthought,” Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas told The Daily Wire.
Even as Liberty Lake residents worked to find solutions to a slew of issues, they were concerned about what their property taxes would look like once the quality of services went up. Over the last decade, however, Liberty Lake’s property taxes have decreased, and the city now has lower property taxes than both Spokane County and the nearby city of Spokane Valley, Kaminskas said.
Now, Liberty Lake is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state with new residents moving to the city from around the country. Residents in some of the surrounding areas have even asked the mayor if their neighborhoods can be added to the city, she said.
“It’s interesting to see how people find out about us because we try to keep it a secret, but it’s getting out,” Kaminskas said.
As for Spokane Valley, the area became an independent city two years later in 2003, but its incorporation process was much messier. At more than 100,000 residents, Spokane Valley is about 10 times larger than Liberty Lake.
Spokane Valley’s successful incorporation vote in May 2002 followed four failed attempts at becoming a new city. Spokane City at one point delayed the Valley’s incorporation because the proposal included the Yardley industrial area, which Spokane wanted to annex.
Residents of Spokane Valley who favored incorporation argued that they wanted more of a voice in their local governance and wanted to avoid being eventually annexed by Spokane City.
Edgemont, an upscale community in New York’s Westchester County, recently revived an effort to secede from the town of Greenburgh, which is responsible for providing city services to the unincorporated community. Part of Edgemont’s motivation was its high-performing school district, which some residents wanted to safeguard from consolidation with neighboring districts, a longterm trend.
A secession would give Edgemont its own mayor, police force, and community center as well as control over sanitation, planning, and zoning issues. The effort has proceeded in fits and starts for over a decade, suffering a defeat in court in February and legislative victories as recently as last month. Greenburgh officials estimated in 2017 that the town would stand to lose about $17 million in tax revenue with the departure of Edgemont, whose 7,500 residents have a median household income of $201,000.
In Austin, some homeowners want to secede from the city of Austin in order to avoid paying city property taxes on their Lake Austin shoreline properties. The average value of the hundreds of homes was $2.1 million in 2019. Residents of those neighborhoods have complained about slow police response times and poor water service. In April, the Texas Senate passed a bill that could pave the way for a secession.
These complaints along with several others appear frequently across various secession movements. Residents often cite school quality, high taxes, rising crime, and poor quality of city services. An individual’s vote is also far more powerful in a smaller district since there are fewer voters than in a large city.
“Your control over various public good preferences is so much greater, and people understand this implicitly, and that’s why there’s been this long-term movement,” Howard Husock, adjunct scholar in Domestic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute told The Daily Wire.