51st State Initiative (secession): Grand County commissioners find no groundswell of support in county

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

The commissioners took public comment on the secession issue the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 27…

Commissioners stressed the point of the meeting was to initiate discussion. Each commissioner said they would like to hear more public comment before voting on adding a secession measure to the ballot. “I’m sure every politician in history has promised their constituents they will listen,” said Commissioner Merrit Linke. “This is what listening looks like, that’s what we’re doing today.”[…]

Several citizens expressed bitterness at being part of a voting district that includes Boulder, saying that the city’s liberal interests take precedence over the interests of rural Grand County. Other citizens said they felt a secession measure wasn’t the best solution to getting rural voices heard, and that even a symbolic measure was a waste of time and resources.

Commissioners will vote on a ballot measure at 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, during their regular meeting open to the public. Commissioners said they’d need to see “groundswelling” support from county citizens to add it to the ballot. “What I’m hearing is about 50-50 from people in this room. What I need to see is an overwhelming flood of support to put this initiative on the ballot, and I’m not seeing that,” Linke said.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Patrick Malone):

Organizers of the secession push met with commissioners in the rural southern Colorado counties of Las Animas and Huerfano on Tuesday. “I came away from that with the feeling that they were very interested in being part of the discussion about the movement and possibly at some point bringing it to voters,” said Tom Gilley, a resident of Weld County and president of the 51st State Initiative organization.

He said it’s too late to get the question on Nov. 5 ballots in southern counties, but his organization is spreading the word among rural government leaders who share the frustration that their concerns and way of life have taken a backseat to the policy priorities of the state’s more populous Front Range…

Las Animas County Commissioner Mack Louden characterized Tuesday’s meeting as informational and said it could spawn future meetings with citizens to gauge their sentiment about a possible split from Colorado.

Louden said severance tax to communities impacted by oil and gas development has not been awarded to rural areas such as Las Animas County at a rate that can mitigate the industry’s impact on roads, and he said in general, the state Legislature has been tone deaf to the priorities of rural portions of the state.

“We want to take a look at it and think about it. You hate to do anything in haste,” Louden said. “There’s a lot of frustration in rural Colorado — east to west, north to south — about how we’re being treated. We own 90 percent of the land mass, but we represent a very small part of the population. All the votes are in Denver. They’ve figured that out and don’t worry too much about rural Colorado.

“Right now (secession) looks very appealing on the surface. But once you start picking that scab down, you can get into some flesh that you don’t want to see.”

Gilley said organizers of the secession movement are trying to schedule a meeting later this week with commissioners who represent counties in the southeast flank of the state. He said commissioners in Pueblo County — all of whom are Democrats, and two of whom are former state lawmakers — rejected an invitation to meet with organizers of the 51st state movement and vowed to actively campaign against secession.

From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

Elbert County on Wednesday joined the growing list of counties that will have a “51st state” measure on the ballot in November. By a 3-0 vote, county commissioners approved asking voters whether they want Elbert County to pursue the movement.

Elbert County Commissioner Robert Rowland said he has received more e-mails and calls on this issue than any other issue since he took office. “I think it reflects the frustrations of rural Colorado,” Rowland said. “They’re feeling helpless right now. Our people have a right to vote on this issue.”

The ballot question echoes that of Weld County, which started the discussion on seceding from Colorado and forming a new state over concerns it had regarding inadequate representation it was getting from the state legislature.

So far, voters in Weld, Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Logan, Washington, Yuma and Moffatt counties will have measures to break away from Colorado on the ballot in November.

“It gives people the ability to send a message to our legislature,” Elbert County Commissioner Kurt Schlegel said. “One thing it has done is started a discussion on how we can better represent people of rural Colorado.”

From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

With about 900 signatures, petitions collected by individuals to put a question on the ballot on whether or not Morgan County supported creating North Colorado fell short of the 2,300 signatures required to put the issue on the ballot in November. That figure would make up about 15 percent of the registered voters in Morgan County, which is what the Board of Morgan County Commissioners had set as the number necessary to put the question on the ballot. The petitions only collected signatures from about 6 percent of the county voters by the deadline on Monday, and those must still be checked for authenticity. The board recently said that county officials would look through the signatures to make sure they were valid The commissioners had saved a place on the November ballot in case enough signatures were collected.

Board members had made it clear in July that they would not make the decision to put the question on the ballot — that such a move would need to come from county residents…

Not long after that, the Morgan County commissioners said they would not lead any secession movement within Morgan County. If a question was to be put on the ballot, it needed to be put there by county residents. They did attend a meeting on the idea in Akron in early July, but only to collect information, they said. About two weeks ago, the commissioners said that petitions with 2,300 valid signatures from registered voters would be required to put the question on the ballot and those signatures needed to be turned in by Aug. 26. That deadline was needed in order to validate the signatures in time to actually put a question on the ballot…

However, the Morgan County commissioners are also cognizant of the cost to area residents if such a course is taken, she said. For example, there would be immediate challenges to water rights [ed. emphasis mine] if the region separated from the rest of Colorado, Teague noted. Local agricultural producers depend on those water rights to grow cattle and crops. Morgan County’s economy relies on that agricultural production.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

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