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West Coast exodus drives surprising political effect in red state, and it's not a liberal shift

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This story is the third in a series examining the mass-migration of West Coast residents to Idaho. Read parts one and two.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — A snarky saying appeared on local bumper stickers in the early 1990s as droves of Californians moved to North Idaho: “Welcome to Idaho. Now go home.”

The “Don’t California my Idaho” sentiment remains alive and well 30 years later as tens of thousands of West Coast residents seek refuge in the Gem State. Recent transplants can be some of the fiercest critics of new residents.

“As soon as we signed the mortgage, we’re like, ‘That’s it. No more Oregonians. Build the wall,’” joked Nick Kostenborder, who moved from Portland to Sandpoint in 2021.


More seriously, though, he said he understands locals’ concerns.

“You should be suspicious of newcomers,” Kostenborder said. “I’ll prove to you that I’m not here to turn it into Portland.”

Idaho “growing redder” as West Coast conservatives move in

Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, according to recent census data, with most of the increase coming not from births, but from West Coast movers. The rapid population gains have ballooned housing prices and strained inventory, while also sparking fears among conservative Idahoans that their new neighbors will bring liberal policies across the state line.

On the politics front, however, voter registration data suggests Gem State Republicans have nothing to fear.

“Politically, we are not changing anything,” Bonner County Commissioner Luke Omodt said. “Idaho is actually growing redder.”

A 2023 analysis of voters who moved in from other states depicts a red wave crashing down on Idaho. Californians led the pack, with 75% registering as Republicans and a mere 10% registering as Democrats. More than 60% of Washington and Oregon transplants who registered to vote in Idaho did so as Republicans.

“They feel like they’re running for their lives away from oppressive laws and policies in these other states,” said Coeur d’Alene-based real estate agent Seth Horst, a former California police officer who moved to Idaho in 2020.


Educating potential movers about the state’s culture has become part of the job for Horst, who runs a podcast and YouTube channel called Residing in North Idaho.

“We get some pushback from locals and people that don’t want others moving here,” Horst said. “But [North Idaho is] not a secret anymore. … What’s important right now is that people are educated because we want the right people moving here. We want people whose values match and don’t want to come here and change the way of life.”

Trent Grandstaff, founder of the Living Life in North Idaho realty group, recalled one prospective mover who wanted to “help fix Idaho” with liberal values.

“I said, ‘For your sake, don’t do that. Nobody wants that,’” Grandstaff said. “People are changing their entire lives, spending so much money to get out of the liberal-run cities.”

Idaho capitol


Out of the three states driving Idaho’s growth, Washington is the only one to avoid overall population dips. California’s decreased by nearly half a million between 2018 and 2023, according to Census Bureau data, while Oregon’s dropped in 2022 for the first time in nearly 40 years.

“That’s a sign of how unique and critical this moment is,” Portland City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Mingus Mapps previously told Fox News Digital. “We have to get this right, and the things that we need to be focusing in on are houselessness, public safety and economic vitality.”

And West Coast states may be getting even bluer with so many of their conservatives fleeing to Idaho.

From May 2020 to March of this year, Oregon’s Multnomah County lost more than 3,700 GOP voters, around 6% of its total Republicans. Neighboring Washington County shed around 7,400 Republicans and gained more than 2,000 Democrats during the same period, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

The Republicans could have simply re-registered as Democrats or with another party, but it’s notable that the losses were overwhelmingly “on one side of the ledger,” according to John Horvick of DHM Research.

“That suggests to me that our more conservative friends and Multnomah County Republican neighbors have decided to go somewhere else,” he said. “Whether it’s across the river to Clark County in Washington or over to Idaho.”

Coeur d'Alene beach split with image of tarps in Portland, Oregon


Bryan Zielinski isn’t worried about the impact on states like Oregon and Washington, his former home.

“That’s their loss,” said Zielinski, who moved to Idaho last June and recently opened a gun store in Post Falls. “If high net-worth, high-productivity individuals and families want to leave an oppressive state … that can only benefit Idaho as a state. It can only hurt Washington, Oregon, California.”

Mayors: Population gains brought economic opportunity, housing hardships

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond has lived in North Idaho for half a century. He’s seen a lot of changes in that time, but lately the biggest difference is what he doesn’t see: familiar faces. He used to budget extra time during grocery store runs or Chamber of Commerce events because he would run into so many people he knew. Now, he doesn’t know the name of everyone he passes in town.

“I am amazed by that,” said Hammond, who also served as a Republican state senator from 2006 to 2012. 

Hammond sees both positives and negatives in North Idaho’s rapid growth.

“If we’re big enough that we can support businesses … we strengthen our own economy,” he said. “We’re not going somewhere else to shop. We’re not going somewhere else for work. We’re doing that all within our community, and that means all those funds stay within our community.”


Nearby, Sandpoint began as a timber town, but had to pivot when the logging industry faded. The proximity of Lake Pend Oreille and Schweitzer Mountain made it a natural outdoor recreation destination. Since tourism jobs are largely seasonal and low paying, Mayor Jeremy Grimm said the region has tried to attract other businesses, like tech companies and manufacturers, billing itself as a perfect location to work and play.

“When you could locate your business … in an urban center or in a place like Sandpoint, it’s pretty easy for a CEO or the owner of those companies to make that choice,” Grimm said.

But that strategy may have worked too well.

“It was easy to bring up companies from, say, California because the cost of living was so much lower here and, at the time, the cost of housing was much lower,” Hammond said. Now, housing prices are “not nearly as competitive” as they once were, he added.

“I fear for my children being able to afford a home”

Grimm spoke to Fox News Digital from a new development on the north side of town, where new houses on lots as small as 5,200 square feet are listed for $600,000 to $800,000.

“Although we have a very diverse economy with aerospace and food manufacturing and medical device manufacturing, at the end of the day, a lot of those jobs don’t support what it takes to buy a house like this,” he said.

Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm


People born in Idaho are getting priced out of their hometowns, said Daniel Hanson, whose family has lived in the Sandpoint area for more than 100 years. He and his wife built an approximately $500,000 home on a small parcel in 2000. Their latest tax assessment values the home at $1.3 million, he said.

“It’s unaffordable,” Hanson told Fox News. “I fear for my children being able to afford a home remotely close to our area.”

Grimm hopes a surge in new inventory will help. Developers are in the process of building around 1,200 new housing units in the city of about 10,000 people, he said.

“Hopefully that will allow our businesses to thrive [and] attract quality employees,” he said, “because we certainly want anyone who wants to move a business here to do that.”

Idaho’s population growth has cooled somewhat since the nearly 3% spike in 2020. But Horst still hears from frustrated West Coast families almost every day who say they want to move to the Gem State.

“The more that we see these ridiculous policies happening in other states, good people who are like, ‘We’ve had enough,’ they are getting pushed to the limit,” he said.

Coeur d'Alene lake

And as some lifetime residents bristle at the rapid growth, Omodt said he hopes the “newcomers and the old-timers alike” can work together to preserve the quality of life he experienced growing up.

“People struggle when the field next door to them turns into houses,” he said. “But that’s also brought jobs. It’s brought families, it’s brought new churches, increased libraries … When we go and we see a new doctor, we’re grateful that we have that new technology and care.”

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

Read the full article here

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