Mention the idea of secession to Frank O’Leary, and one name springs to mind.
What if Arlington, and the rest of Northern Virginia, left the Commonwealth of Virginia to become their own state?
"I know one fellow who’s very passionate about that," responds O’Leary, Arlington’s treasurer. "Jim Kasica."
Kasica, an Arlington graphic designer, has been toying with the idea of secession for several years. He thinks it would be great for the counties that serve as Virginia’s economic engine. But he’s also realistic about it.
"I’ve lived here since ’75. I don’t consider myself a son of Virginia, but I love Virginia and I know Virginia," he said.
One thing he’s learned, he said: "I know change comes slowly."
"If a secessionist movement would succeed in the next 25 years, I would be elated," he said. "If someone said expect it in the next 10 years, I’d say either cut your meds, or increase them."
<b>KASICA CALLS HIS</b> idealized state Potomaca, for the river that would play such an integral role in the state.
But Kasica’s proposed state is a little different from that considered by the Connection. It would include Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties, true. But it would also run west to the West Virginia border, and south to Fredericksburg, Culpeper and Madison counties.
The capital would move to Winchester, in western Frederick County. "I thought Winchester would be a nice balance," he said, between the densely populated eastern suburbs and the more rural counties south and west.
It would also balance out politically. Democratic Arlington and its moderate neighbors would be countered by the more Republican counties west and south. "I think slightly more Republican flavor would play well at the national level," Kasica wrote in an e-mail, and would let Potomaca meet faster approval.
<b>THE DIVISION<b> would also bring some economic balance, he said, with more agriculture in the south and west of Potomaca. But Kasica’s 14 counties would still represent a near majority of Virginia’s revenue generation.
"It’s probably 40 percent of the revenue," he said. "In 1996, sales tax in Arlington generated $101 million, and they rebated back $22.4 million, for a net loss of $78.5 million. It keeps getting larger. In 2001, we generated $13.3 million, and they rebated back $29.4 million, a loss of $102.9 million."
That was what motivated Kasica to start dreaming about Potomaca, he said: the disparity between what those 14 counties sent to Richmond and what they got back. It seems to him to be a regional issue. "There’s an attitude that in the north of the state, you’re not a true son of Virginia," he said. "Richmond ought to give us a little more respect. Or maybe we don’t need Richmond."
<b>POTOMACA WOULD AVOID</b> some of the problems that the Connection’s secession proposal would run into.
The 14 counties together would have a population of 2.5 million, Kasica said, almost one-third of Virginia’s current population, and 12 percent of the current state’s landmass. The design would also retain three current seats in the US House of Representatives, the 8th, 10th and 11th districts.
The state would include prisons in the west end of the state, eliminating the need to build more in Northern Virginia
But it would still excise most of the state university system, including Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and College of William & Mary, putting more of the local educational burden on George Mason University.
<b>SOME COUNTIES</b> in Northern California have expressed similar sentiments, but Kasica said he didn’t expect to see any breakaway republics anytime soon.
His real goal is just to get Richmond’s attention.
But Richmond seems to be sunk in a swamp of politics-as-usual. Road projects seem to make their way to rural areas, rather than the North, where they’re really needed, Kasica said.
"I understand that’s politics. But when I see what’s going on in Richmond, it makes me vehement that Richmond should reorganize or we should get out."
Paralysis in Richmond just seems to make things impossible," he said. "We have the critical mass and the know-how in Northern Virginia to do it on our own."
A precedent for secession has been established, Kasica said, by West Virginia. "Of course, Richmond was at war then."