Article by Henry Baumgart & Sydney Gaeth | Photo Illustrations by Kelsey Stephenson | Owl Staff
Many people associate Western Maryland with its beautiful mountains and rolling hills — not with civil unrest. However, a concerned local group is upset over gun control and high taxes and has been fighting to become its own state since 2013.
Scott Strzelczyk, a full-time IT Consultant and active member of the community, founded a movement called “Free Western Maryland” to try and accomplish the feat.
“This is a difficult, long process that might not happen in a year, and it might not even happen in a decade,” says Strzelczyk.
Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington counties are the five that would form the new state. 150 years ago, West Virginia was the last state to break away from its former territory and now, Strzelczyk and his team believe it can and should happen again.
“We have 50 states, right? Why? Wyoming has the lowest population and California has the most. Why not divide California into multiple states so every group is represented? Why not have 300 states?” says Strzelczyk.
As of 2015, the group of leaders has collected 3-4,000 signatures with both online and paper petitions.
“We’ve been to town halls in Allegany and Garrett counties as well as gun shows to pass out literature and petitions,” says Strzelczyk, “We get incredible support at the gun shows because they feel Maryland is too restrictive on gun laws.”
With the newly elected governor of Maryland, Strzelczyk explains, “We have to determine if Larry Hogan’s election changed others’ thoughts about this.” He adds, “It doesn’t change mine at all.”
The counties believe thatMaryland’s lawmakers do not listen to their concerns so they want to create a state better fitting to their beliefs. “Rural areas never have proper representation,” says Strzelczyk. There are similar movements happening in California, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, and Florida.
Even in Harford County, the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” is seen on the Gadsden Flag displayed by many concerned local residents. The flag is also commonly associated with the Harford Campaign for Liberty, which is a local chapter of a larger movement seeking to limit government, lower taxes, and uphold the constitution.
The potential 51st state, with discussed names such as “Augusta,” “Antietam,” and “Liberty” would have to be approved by the state of Maryland as well as the U.S. Congress.
“In Colorado, the County Commissioner can put this [movement] on a ballot and we can’t. Our options are only to approach Annapolis as these five counties,” explains Strzelczyk.
The petitioners are aware that it’s an uphill battle to secede, but are still willing to give it their all. According to Strzelczyk, “I stand for freedom, liberty, and the founding principles… this effort is to educate people about their options of governance.”