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Lawmaker laying path for Eastside to secede from King County

A view from Seattle looking over Lake Washington to the Eastside. (Joe Wolf, Flickr)

Critics could argue that Sen. Phil Fortunato’s effort to create a generic, legal pathway for Washingtonians to create their own county is really about getting the Eastside of King County to break away from Seattle.

And they would be right.

“That is exactly what motivated this,” Fortunato told Seattle’s Morning News. “I’m hoping we would be able to form a new county and simply go right around Seattle. And Seattle could be King County, and we’ll be something else. They can go and continue to do all their crazy stuff, and have their little socialist enclave, and have $25 minimum wage, and free needles and all that stuff. They could do whatever the heck they want, they just won’t do it with our money.”

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Fortunato is a Republican state senator from Auburn. As the state Legislature heads into an interim period, he is crafting Senate Bill 5932, which is also sponsored by Republican senators Dino Rossi and Mark Miloscia. The bill sets up a process for residents to secede from their county and form their own. He notes that in the past there have been specific movements to form a new county in Washington, but there is no official state process for doing so.

“What the bill actually does is simply set forth the process by which a new county would be formed,” Fortunato said. “… it’s been since 1930 when they tried to form a new county and a judge simply said that there’s nothing in law that says how to do this. So the legislature has to lay out how to form a new county. That was in 1930. Nobody has done that since. There have been other proposals to form a new county, where they pass a law and say Skykomish County or Freedom County … but it was specific to that county. This is generic – this is how to form a new county.”

How to secede from King County … eventually

Fortunato said that he will spend the coming months building up the bill, seeking advice from other lawmakers and gaining approval. He thinks that because the bill doesn’t specifically target King County, and affects the whole state, he has a good chance of getting it to pass next session. He also said that he has support from at least one King County council member, Kathy Lambert, who he’s been chatting about the idea with for at least six weeks.

The bill is similar to how a new city forms, and creates a few steps for residents, according to Fortunato:

• Step 1: People get together to decide they want a new county
• Step 2: They determine the boundaries of the proposed county
• Step 3: They start gathering signatures (more than 50 percent of registered voters to be official), or the cities can vote on whether or not to form a new county
• Step 4: If approved, a process is started which evaluates how much money is generated in the region; the services needed; and what the transition would look like

There would be an interim county council to oversee the transition.

If the bill passes, it would open up a way for Eastside communities to break away  — specifically from Seattle, which would remain under the purview of King County. Then it’s just a matter of what to call the new government.

“The one suggestion that did come up with the names is that Seattle could be King County, and we could be Queen County,” Fortunato said. “But that was a little bit too feminine for, you know, my …”

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