Resentment Toward the Golden State Diaspora Grows in Idaho

As public-sector problems go, Idaho has a good one: too many people want to live there. According to Census Bureau data, Idaho is now tied with Nevada as the fastest-growing state in the union, in percentage terms. From 2010 to 2018, the state’s population grew by nearly 12 percent. The growth was concentrated in the state’s capital and largest city, Boise, which saw an 18.5 percent population increase over that period.

There’s a catch, however, at least in the eyes of many Idahoans: a disproportionate number of newcomers are coming from California. In the 12 months from July 2017 to July 2018, Californians accounted for nearly 60 percent of Idaho’s net migration. The state is far from alone in this regard. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, six of the seven fastest-growing states in the nation in percentage terms—Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Washington, and Colorado—are in the West. In all six, California is the largest source of new residents.

None of this should be particularly surprising. With a population of approximately 40 million, it would be strange if California wasn’t the biggest supplier of expatriates—especially to nearby states. But far from making these demographic shifts unremarkable, California’s size comes with equally significant consequences for its neighbors. For while the number of departing citizens might seem like a rounding error for a state like California, they’re a significantly larger percentage of the population in the states to which they decamp. Nowhere is that felt more acutely than in Idaho, a mostly rural state without a major metropolitan area. (A “major” metro is generally defined as having a population of over 1 million; the Boise area has around 730,000.) Los Angeles County alone has more than five times as many residents as the entire state.

Predictably enough, this has fueled a backlash. As a recent report by Maria L. La Ganga in the Los Angeles Times notes, many longtime residents aren’t thrilled with the breakneck pace of change brought by California’s hordes. While La Ganga devotes a bit too much time to colorful but unserious signs of the blowback—a fringe Boise mayoral candidate, for example, who flippantly proposes erecting a wall to keep the Californians out—there’s no doubt that the deluge of movers creates genuine concerns. Median home prices in Ada County, where Boise is located, have increased by over 19 percent just since February 2018. Not only does the influx of Californians increase demand, but their inflationary influence is also compounded by housing budgets swollen by the sale of their Golden State properties.

As anyone who’s ever experienced one of these demographic surges up close will know, most local resentment is expressed in cultural rather than economic terms. (I once told a lunch companion in my adopted home state of Tennessee that I was originally from Southern California. His response: “I’m sorry to hear that.”) La Ganga quotes the diagnosis of Reverend Bill Roscoe, a California expat who’s been in Idaho since 2002: “If you come here and love it, everything’s fine. If you come here and fly that California flag in your driveway and have stickers on your car that say, ‘Santa Cruz,’ there’s going to be some hard feelings.”

That’s not an unreasonable position. Nor, it should be noted, is it an enforceable one. There’s no law that one can pass to uphold something as intangible as a community ethos, though that hasn’t kept people from trying—Wayne Richey, the fringe mayoral candidate, proposed higher property taxes for new arrivals in Boise. All the natives can really do is resort to the soft sanction of local norms. And that’s a harder task when the inflow is coming at such speed and volume that longtime residents’ influence is, as a proportional matter, waning.

The California-Idaho nexus presents an extreme version of the questions that all similarly situated places must answer: what do newcomers owe longtime residents? And how should the former treat the latter? On the major questions, the answers suggest themselves. Newcomers would do well to conduct themselves as converts rather than colonizers. It’s hard to welcome someone into a community that they seem intent on scrapping for parts. By the same token, locals have to concede that growth is inevitably accompanied by change. That can be uncomfortable—but much less so than the alternatives of stagnation or even decline.

On the everyday questions—the ones about how the parties actually come to a workable modus vivendi—the answers will surely be messier. But they will not be settled by public policy. Despite the occasional reveries that we’ll all sort into likeminded communities, most Americans don’t move for explicitly political reasons. So, there’s no easy way out: we’ll have to learn to live with one another. To do so, we’ll need to revive a virtue that modern America too often neglects: mutual forbearance. In Idaho, at least, they start with an advantage. The old-timers and the newbies already have at least one thing in common: neither wants to be in California.

Troy Senik was a White House speechwriter for George W. Bush. He is the author of the forthcoming book, A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online


  1. Just talked with a fellow from Idaho visiting in Calif. He stated the exact same. One of the issues is why do they come here and then vote for exactly the same type of big government that swamped them?

    The transplants unfortunately want the benefits of handouts Socialism promises but then do not want to pay for them or have the rules and regulations. What a strange twist….they want money only theft by taxation can give them but don’t want to be responsible for destruction of where they move.

  2. I myself, am a California transplant. Left that Godforsaken liberal mess back in 2006. Personally I’m a very conservative Republican that felt very out of place in California due to the left’s majority there. Couple that with the fact that unless you are independently wealthy, there is no way to comfortably retire in California. I’ve met many other expats who feel the same way. I love the outdoor lifestyle and am an avid fisherman and hunter too which also made me feel out of place back home.
    I was warned right away that the best way to fit in in Idaho is to immediately get you license plates changed, and leave the liberal policies and politics back where they belong, in California, which for me, being so conservative,. hasn’t been a problem. Besides, we’re all Americans right? Even my closest neighbor who migrated from Oregon when they saw a huge influx of Californians moving there destroying that beautiful state too, says that when he’s asked who he is, says I’m an American and leaves it at that!

  3. SHANE CONWAY says

    I fled from California in 2015. I have never regretted it. I tell people we are refugees and have no intention of changing Idaho.
    Idaho is the last place on Earth where we can live free. If Californians come here and change it, we are lost forever. People here are friendlier, and most are respectful. Unlike California where people have become rude and selfish. Californians are easy to spot when you see how they drive or fail to hold a door open for someone when entering the store. The big leading news stories here are others raising money for veterans or children’s hospitals, unlike California headlines of police pursuits and shootings.
    Our homeless crisis is not really a crisis as it is a management problem. They are not tolerated like they are in California. The police and firefighters are respected here. Gun control is non existent. I can go in and buy a box of ammo without a background check. I see some people carrying sidearms openly without others calling in the SWAT team. It is much safer here.
    Marijuana is still illegal and they will prosecute you for possession. This is where I belong. I was born and raised in California, but the past 40 years have felt out of place. I never touched a surfboard in my life or smoked dope. Nor will I ever. I’m just sorry I didn’t leave California sooner. I knew it would devolve to what it is today. I thought I would see it stay American in nature. But my elected officials let me down. I felt like a foreigner in my own home state.
    Thank God I was able to leave. God bless America.

    • Everything Shane said is what I’ve found and appreciate here in Idaho as well. And I also describe myself as a refugee from California. When I got a new dentist after retiring here, we talked about several issues and he suddenly said, loudly, “I declare you an Idahoan!” Everyone in the office cheered and clapped for me. That, and having to show my ID the first time I voted here (presidential election 2016) made me very proud to be here. I think some of the folks here who are most against the CA invasion are us refugees. The enemy is trying hard to make inroads, though.

  4. The vast majority of Nevada outside of Lost Vegas (East L.A.) feels the same way and even seems to be getting a little hostile towards the transplants who bring their anti America Left wing BS with them.

    • TheGhostofBelleStarr says

      But Nevada just elected a Democrat Governor, the first in many many years. That ought to be a sign of a downward trend there !

  5. feel sorry for ID for alot of reasons

  6. Disenfranchised Californian says

    Lived in California all my life, I’ve seen the state as a free state but now we have no constitutional rights here. I think if other states want to keep their states free, make the people from California take a litmus test before you allow them in.

    People with no rights in California should not have a problem taking the test, and the politicians in California should not have a problem with this either as they’re always screaming about state rights, other states have rights too.

    So if you want no constitution and no bill rights just keep letting Californians come to your state. Just remember California is the head of the snake and until the head is cut off nobody is safe – I don’t care what state you live in.

    These people have voted for Democrats for years and look at the state now. The people could’ve fixed California by not voting for the Democrats, but they didn’t. Don’t let the same thing happen in your state

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