CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WJZ) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he would welcome three counties in Western Maryland after state legislators from those jurisdictions sent letters asking to become part of the state.
“There’s incredible stuff that’s happening in the state of West Virginia, and I would say come and join the team,” Justice said during a press briefing Friday. “We would welcome you in every way, and you sure as the dickens won’t ever regret it.”READ MORE: Maryland Weather: Severe Storm Threat Prompts Alert Day Saturday
Among the reasons to come to the state, Justice said, are a rainy day fund of more than $1 billion, a booming tourism industry, natural resources, no taxes on Social Security for seniors and infrastructure upgrades.
He also touted the state’s support of the 2nd Amendment and anti-abortion measures.
The governor said he did not solicit Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties to break away from Maryland and join his state, though he last year made a similar pitch to conservative counties in Virginia, according to The Washington Post.
Justice offered to call state lawmakers back for a special session to vote on a resolution that would add about 250,000 people in the three Maryland counties to West Virginia.
West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair (R) and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R) appeared during the press briefing to offer their support for the idea.
Blair said his wife works in Washington County, Maryland.
“Our community in the Eastern panhandle is made up of Washington County, Maryland, Frederick County, Virginia–we’re all sort of one up there, working together,” he said. “And then Allegany County and Garrett County is part of the Potomac Highlands. There’s an artificial boundary that goes between West Virginia and Maryland, but in reality, our communities cross over.”
Five Republican lawmakers from the Maryland counties, all located in the westernmost part of the state, sent letters to Blair and Handshaw asking if West Virginia would consider adding their jurisdictions.
Dels. Wivell (District 2A) and Mike McKay (District 1C) signed one letter on behalf of Washington County, and Dels. Jason Buckel (District 1B), Wendell Beitzel (District 1A) and McKay, and Sen. George Edwards (District 1), signed another letter on behalf of Allegany and Garrett counties.
“The western areas of the state feel they’re being shortchanged in a lot of respects, and we had a lot of constituents approaching us … saying, ‘Why can’t we just join West Virginia?’ It’s just that simple,” Beitzel told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.READ MORE: Baltimore Police Stepping Up Deployment On Fourth Of July Weekend, Commissioner Says
West Virginia Del. Gary Howell, a Republican representing Mineral County, said during the press briefing he was approached by Beitzel several months ago, who asked, “Hey, is that offer you gave to Virginia a few years ago available to us?”
Beitzel and other Maryland lawmakers came down for a meeting in Charleston to discuss the idea, Howell said.
Allegany County Board of Commissioners President Jake Shade on Thursday criticized the idea and its timing, according to a report in the Cumberland Times-News.
“It would be one thing if we weren’t still in the middle of a pandemic. … trying to keep schools open and to have this distraction … something that isn’t going to happen because it has to pass the United States Congress. I question why, and who, thought this was a good idea?”
Shade is likely referring to Article IV, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution, which says no new state can be formed within the jurisdiction of another state, or by joining parts of states, “without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”
Shade is running against McKay for the District 1 senate seat in the legislature.
McKay told the newspaper: “There is always a chance someone will be upset, but at the end of the day we need to have adult conversations. We may decide it is better to stay in Maryland. But I certainly respect the people across the Potomac (River in West Virginia) to have a sit-down conversation to look at it.”
On Friday, state Sen. Paul Corderman (R-District 2), who represents Washington County, released a statement coming out against the idea.
“As a representative of a majority of the population in Washington County, I have no interested, nor do I think a majority of the constituents we represent have any interest, in leaving the state of Maryland,” Corderman wrote.
The Maryland General Assembly has been “generous to our community,” he wrote.MORE NEWS: State Police Expand Traffic Enforcement On I-83 In Baltimore City
The Associated Press contributed to this report.