Howell joins Governor in welcoming Maryland counties

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
The State Capitol of West Virginia

CHARLESTON - Mineral County’s Del. Gary Howell is among those West Virginia state legislators who say they are receptive to the idea of welcoming three Western Maryland counties into the state boundaries of West Virginia.

The idea came about when three Maryland state legislators sent a letter to some of their counterparts in West Virginia with a proposal to allow Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties to secede to their neighboring state.

Sen. George Edwards and Delegates Mike McKay and Wendell Beitzel traveled to Charleston last month to explore the idea with state legislators, and say they received a favorable response.

They then drafted a letter proposing the merger and sent it to W.Va. Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Craig Blair.

In the letter, they called the proposal “mutually beneficial for both states and/or our local constituencies.”

Friday, Gov. Jim Justice announced his support for the proposal, saying, “We’ve got it going on right now in West Virginia … Why wouldn’t you want to come? We want everyone to know that we are standing here with open arms. We welcome these counties and would be tickled to death to have them and the great folks of that incredible state.”

The Governor was joined for his livestreamed announcement Friday by Senate President Blair, House Speaker Hanshaw, and Del. Howell.

“When [Delegates from Maryland] requested to come down to Charleston, they met with President Blair, Speaker Hanshaw, and myself,” Howell said. “We gave them 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. 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.’” Howell said.

“This is a moment that just goes to show that the work we’ve been doing in the state of West Virginia is paying dividends,” Blair said.

“People are moving to West Virginia, businesses are moving to West Virginia, now we’ve got counties from other states wanting to move to West Virginia,” Blair continued. “Because of the hard work that we’ve done over the last few years to make West Virginia a better place, we’ve been growing and regrowing in our state.”

“It’s always flattering when we see recognition for what's going on here in West Virginia, making national headlines and positioning West Virginia in a place that we have received letters like we’ve received this week from our friends across the border in Maryland,” Hanshaw said. “Certainly, West Virginia is an easy choice. Things have progressed here in our state in the course of the past three or four years in a way that we’ve not seen in the lifetime of most West Virginians.”

The proposal has it’s critics, however. Among them is Allegany County Commissioner Jake Shade, who called the effort “a waste of time” according to published reports.

Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties are predominantly bordered by West Virginia, not Maryland. The three counties are more mountainous and rural than their state’s urban population centers, with the region being known as “Mountain Maryland.”

The three counties have a combined population over 251,000 and include the cities of Cumberland and Hagerstown, both of which would be among the top 10 most-populated cities in West Virginia if they joined.

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.