On Wednesday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice joined Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to make one of the more bizarre geopolitical pitches in recent memory: inviting disgruntled conservative counties in Virginia to secede from their state and join West Virginia instead.
What could have been a friendly PR campaign inviting residents to see what West Virginia has to offer instead became an obtusely political push to redraw Virginia’s border, hinging on a standing invitation first made in 1862. The pitch was dubbed “Vexit” after the seismic and definitely-not-controversial decision for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.
“If you’re not happy where you’re at, come on down,” Justice said at the presser, according to Fox News. “If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere you may be. We stand strongly behind the Second Amendment, and we stand strongly for the unborn.”
Both Justice and Falwell were incensed at the political situation in the state of Virginia, which swung blue in the November election for the first time in a decade.
“While Governor Justice and I have always shared great pride for our states, what’s happening in Virginia right now is a tragedy in the making,” Falwell said. “Democrat leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake, and they are using their power to strip away the God-given rights held by every person in the state, despite their due protections under the U.S. Constitution.”
This “Vexit” would be, as Falwell himself admitted in the news conference, a longshot. Falwell speculated that it would require approval from both states and perhaps Congress itself. He suggested that interested parties could attempt to hold non-binding referendums to pressure officials to “do the right thing.”
But the proposal drew bipartisan mockery. “What are they doing, a comedy routine?” said Republican Senator Emmett Hanger. A spokesperson for Virginia governor Ralph Northam simply said: “As always, Jerry Falwell’s words speak for themselves.”
It’s true that conservatives in Virginia have been disgruntled by proposed legislation from the state’s ascendant Democrat party. Last week, about 20,000 gun rights activists took to the streets of Richmond in protest of new Democrat-backed gun laws.
And credit where it’s due: As Falwell noted, this wouldn’t be the first time Virginians seceded from their state. In 1861, 30 delegates from Virginia voted against the Ordinance of Secession, declaring that they wanted to remain in the Union during the Civil War. They were outvoted but not deterred and chose to form their own state, which became West Virginia — the only U.S. state formed by separating from a Confederate state. Those delegates, of course, ended up being on the right side of history, but whether or not current political tensions rise to the level of the Civil War remains to be seen.