Weld County Farmers Union: ‘…secession is not a solution’

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Agriculture is one of the industries Weld County commissioners say they’re standing up for in their push to secede from Colorado, but some members of the industry this week spoke out against the commission’s ongoing secession efforts.

“We recognize there is a disconnect between rural and urban communities, but we also agree secession is not a solution,” states a special resolution adopted by Weld County Farmers Union members attending the organization’s recent annual meeting.

Weld County commissioners since this summer have spoken out in favor of creating a new state to allow northeast Colorado’s robust agriculture and oil and gas industries to thrive under regulations of their own design — rules different than those created through the influence of the state’s urban lawmakers. Commissioners have said a collective mass of issues have accumulated during the past several years that isolate rural Colorado from the rest of the state and put those rural counties at a disadvantage. They’ve specifically made reference to state regulations impacting agriculture and oil and gas.

“We all appreciate that rural communities, along with farmers and ranchers, seem to have less of a voice each year,” said Ray Peterson, president of Weld County Farmers Union, in a news release. “Action to withdraw into a 51st state does not solve the larger problems. All this will do is isolate us even more. Maybe we need to do some serious analyzing as to why our rural message is not getting though.”

However, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said Thursday he and other commissioners are hearing from many others in the ag community that they are fed up with disconnect between rural Colorado and urban lawmakers and still support the secession movement.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Weld County Farm Bureau, a separate ag organization, had not officially spoken out in favor or against the 51st state movement, according to its board members.

Peterson is a former Colorado state senator who operates the ranch on which he was born, northeast of Nunn.

“I grew up appreciating the values of rural Colorado. But I see secession as a reactionary response to legislative actions at the state capitol,” Peterson said. “To withdraw will cause further fragmentation of Colorado. We need to be working together to iron out differences.”

Weld County Farmers Union members said in their news release they believe people need to know there are residents of the county who are not in favor of forming a 51st state.

Peterson said residents of Weld County would be better served if their elected officials worked with their counterparts in both rural and urban communities to find common ground. Otherwise, Weld County residents run the risk of being locked into a situation that has short-term uncertainty and potentially long-term harm.

From Aljazeera America (Sandra Fish):

On Nov. 5, residents in Weld and 10 other counties will vote on whether to start the process to create a 51st state. Those counties account for 24 percent of Colorado’s landmass, but only about 7 percent of the state’s 5 million people.

It’s a quixotic effort, and one not unique to northern Colorado, that highlights the deep divisions between urban and rural — or, at least, the sense of disconnectedness that residents of rural America are feeling. Two northern California counties recently voted to leave their state. There’s an effort underway in western Maryland.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Julie Taylor, co-owner of Gilcrest Farm Supply.

Gilcrest is about 40 miles northwest of the college town of Boulder, which is often held up as a poster child of all that’s wrong with urban Colorado. Taylor said the recent floods in Boulder and Weld counties are an example of the differences between urban and rural life.

“Around here, it was more worry about how’s it going to affect your livelihood, with animals and crops,” she said. “In Boulder, it was ‘How are we going to get around?’”[…]

Jeffrey Hare, a spokesman and organizer for the 51st State Initiative, said gun control legislation — universal background checks and magazine capacity limits — and laws requiring higher renewable energy standards for rural electric cooperatives are part of the impetus for the movement.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to accomplish is better representation for rural America and more direct representation,” Hare said. “We have a disenfranchised class of voters, that are smaller and don’t have the votes to fend for their values.”

A new state, he said, “would provide a better check-and-balance for the urban-rural divide. It would also provide check-and-balance for the Republican-Democratic divide.”

That political divide may be the real root of the problem, said Daniel Lichter, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University who specializes in rural demographics.

“You’ve got a tea party that is disproportionately rural, it’s disproportionately white. They are oftentimes anti-government,” Lichter said. “They see urban America, urban minorities taking over their country.

“I think we have a very big cultural gap between urban and rural America at the moment, with rural states having a whole different set of cultural values.”

That gap is evident at both the local and national levels, Lichter said. But even rural areas differ, as Jess Haynes pointed out in a conversation break while studying at Zoe’s Café in Greeley recently.

Haynes grew up in the rural mountains of Park County and has worked in the ski town of Breckenridge.

“It’s very high income, a lot more liberal, a lot more tolerant,” she said of the mountain towns. “A lot of my friends who are in the agricultural rural (region), it’s a lot more conservative, more politically right, more of a work-ethic based as opposed to play … It’s a more somber, less frivolous society.”

Here’s a guest column written by Dave Young that’s running in The Greeley Tribune:

Voters in Weld and a handful of other Colorado counties will soon have the opportunity to weigh in on the notion of seceding from Colorado and forming a separate, 51st state. As a proud native Coloradan, I have deep misgivings about the idea.

The secessionists insist that the state government isn’t concerned with anything outside the Denver metro area. Yet Gov. John Hickenlooper and members of his administration have been spending a lot of time lately in Weld County and other rural areas hammered by last month’s flooding.

The flood illustrates a critical point: We’re all in this together. Hickenlooper, just like his predecessors, takes seriously his role as governor of all of Colorado. He and state officials on both sides of the aisle are making sure the state is doing everything it can to provide short-term relief in all flood-ravaged areas and to marshal the funds to rebuild damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

When the floods came, volunteer first responders converged on Weld County from around the state. Our Colorado National Guard engineers and civilian crews hired by the state are working feverishly to rebuild U.S. 34 and other storm-damaged roads and bridges before winter sets in. I’m grateful for their effort. A vote to secede is hardly a way of saying thanks, and it could undermine the recovery.

The state’s attention is not just a one-time disaster relief effort. A recent I-News report estimates that Colorado spends between $60 million and $120 million more per year in the 11 counties considering secession than it receives from those counties in taxes and fees.

Regardless of the outcome of next month’s vote, secession would require the approval of the Colorado Legislature, the U.S. Congress and, probably, the voters of Colorado. It’s next to impossible to envision the Legislative and popular majorities that would both be needed to partition Colorado. It’s equally inconceivable that Congress would ever vote to set a dangerous national precedent by breaking up a state.

The only state formed without the blessing of its “parent” state was West Virginia, which split from Virginia in 1863. Because Virginia had seceded from the Union in 1861, and because the nation was in the middle of the Civil War to reverse the secession of Virginia and the other Confederate states, the U.S. Congress welcomed any move to weaken Virginia, and unilaterally recognized the upstart West Virginia government.

Those were extraordinary circumstances, when the issues of the day were nothing less than preserving the Union and abolishing slavery. By contrast, the North Colorado secessionists seem most worried about the changes to our renewable energy standard. But as even the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union points out, “Wind development in Weld and Logan counties has had a positive economic impact for those counties, leading to around $2.5 billion of private investment in infrastructure just in those counties.” The new standard will create even more investment and more jobs.

Many in Weld County and northeastern Colorado feel Denver isn’t listening. I share their frustration. If the secession vote is meant to send a message that we need more dialogue, then I hear you loud and clear. But the fix for a breakdown in dialogue is better and more productive dialogue, not a divorce.

Different areas of this state will disagree now and then, but we all have a role to play in making Colorado great.

I’m proud to represent House District 50 and its residents, and I’m working hard to make our voices heard in Denver in a constructive way. I urge a no vote on secession.

State Rep. Dave Young’s House District 50 includes Greeley, Garden City and Evans.

Here’s a guest column written by Sean Conway that’s running in The Greeley Tribune:

As a Coloradan and Weld County resident, did you watch with alarm as the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation this past session that went after our farmers, ranchers and small business owners?

Do you remember where you were in June when you heard Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened in the execution of Nathan Dunlap despite more than two decades of judicial review and the Colorado Supreme Court upholding his conviction for the cold-blooded murder of teenagers working at Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora? Did you have a sense of outrage?

Do you remember seeing our legislators last March ignoring the pleas of law enforcement, sheriffs and police chiefs to not pass into law unconstitutional and unenforceable gun control laws in Colorado just because the mayor of New York City demanded they do so?

Are you embarrassed that Colorado college students and their families who qualify for in-state tuition pay more to go to CU, CSU or UNC than they would pay in out-of-state tuition for the University of Wyoming or other state universities in the Rocky Mountain region?

Are you tired of seeing hundreds of millions of dollars generated by oil and gas production in Weld County going to Denver to fund K-12 school districts in the metro areas, while our Weld County districts have some of the worst per-pupil funding levels in Colorado?

Then vote yes on Question 1A, the statehood question on this year’s ballot, to send a clear message to Denver that we need a change.

Hickenlooper and the current leadership in the General Assembly have too long ignored Weld County and rural Colorado. They have supported anti-agriculture, anti-oil and gas and anti-small business legislation that, if fully enacted, will destroy our economy and very way of life in Weld County.

In the summer of 2012, when farmers asked the governor to invoke the same emergency powers he used to help put out the wildfires — emergency powers that would help farmers in Weld County and northeastern Colorado save their crops from a devastating drought — he said no. It is time to send a message that that was wrong, and everyone in a time of need should be treated equally.

When urban legislators passed Senate Bill 252, imposing renewable energy mandates on rural REA’s and co-ops and then exempting their own municipal utilities and Xcel from those same standards, it was hypocritical and wrong. Still, Hickenlooper signed the bill into law. It is time to send a message that this type of selective legislation is not acceptable.

And when law enforcement officials from across the state came to the state Capitol last spring to explain why the gun control bills being proposed could not possibly be enforced and in fact violated the Second Amendment, they were ignored, kept from testifying and made fun of by legislators who cared more about Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his feelings than the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us. It is time to send a message that this behavior is not acceptable.

Question 1A is simply a straw poll on whether you believe the governor and leaders in the Colorado General Assembly are acting in the best interests of all Coloradans. A yes vote does not create a new state immediately; it only allows the conversation to continue.

By voting yes on 1A, you are sending a message: We want to see a change to a more common sense approach that respects rural Colorado as well as urban Colorado.

I respectfully ask you join me in sending a strong message to Denver on Nov. 5. Vote yes on Question 1A, the statehood question.

Sean Conway is a Weld County commissioner serving in his second term.

From the Associated Press via the The Colorado Springs Gazette:

In a letter sent on Monday to Don Mueller, chairman of the Weld County Council, the three attorneys – Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson – say the Colorado Constitution gives citizens the authority to alter their form of government, but no such authority is granted to county commissioners.

“We have reviewed the Colorado Constitution, the statutes of Colorado and the Weld County Home Rule Charter,” the letter states. “We can find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County from the state of Colorado.”

Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said those claims are “totally baseless.”

“We obviously wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t have a legal basis to do it,” Rademacher said.

Witwer, one of the attorneys who signed off on the letter, said commissioners’ proposal to secede from Colorado is their most recent action in a number of instances that he said don’t necessarily fall under their authority. He said no state law or county charter outlines commissioners’ authority to focus on issues outside of county affairs.

Weld commissioners have said they were approached by a group of residents who asked them to start a secession movement. But Witwer said the fact that constituents approached them still doesn’t grant commissioners authority to start the movement.

Witwer said the November ballot question asking voters whether they would like to secede isn’t an official action, but more of a poll. He said that kind of initiative has no real legal base.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker acts as legal counsel for commissioners and the Weld County Council, so the letter asks the county council to seek a neutral attorney to investigate commissioners’ authority.

Finally, here’s an editorial from The Greeley Tribune editorial staff:

It won’t surprise anyone who regularly reads this page to learn that we’re urging residents to vote against Weld County Ballot Question 1A, which asks the county commissioners to work with commissioners from other counties to form the nation’s 51st state.

In June, when commissioners first proposed working with roughly 10 other eastern plains counties to break away from Colorado and form their own, largely agrarian state, many around Colorado and the nation simply laughed.

We didn’t.

We understand full well the frustration and sense of alienation that many in this part of the state feel after last year’s legislative session in which leaders of the Democratic majority — predominantly from the state’s urban corridor — frequently seemed to eschew debate in favor of lock-step, party-line votes that were certain to elicit the kind of reaction that has led to the secession movement.

The commissioners and other supporters of the 51st state are right to point out that the diminishing influence of rural areas comes as the result of large, long-term trends that have seen cities and suburban areas rise in political and economic influence around the country as the nation has become more urban during the past two centuries. However, other things also have contributed to the decline of rural power in Denver. Term limits, for example, pushed out several effective and experienced legislators who ably represented the interests of rural communities. The legislators who have gone to Denver in recent years to represent Weld County have proved woefully inadequate to the task.

Rural discontent and estrangement are real problems, and they need serious solutions. The chimera of secession offers no such result.

In fact, it’s hard to say exactly what an affirmative vote on Ballot Question 1A would accomplish. It won’t create a new state. It won’t repeal the onerous requirement that rural electric cooperatives double the amount of power they get from wind and solar sources. It won’t change the state’s gun control laws or redraw legislative boundaries.

What it will do is push this county onto a path that’s fraught with uncertainty. How would the commissioners work toward forming a new state? How much would these efforts cost? How would others in Colorado and around the country view these efforts? And how would that affect existing business and personal relationships around the state and country?

Even its supporters grant that the actual formation of a 51st state is a virtual nonstarter because it requires approval of both the Colorado Legislature and Congress. However, if a new state were ever to become more likely, that, too, would carry its own unprecedented levels of uncertainty. Everything from water rights to regulations on business and even in-state tuition at the University of Colorado and Colorado State would be up in the air. More importantly, even supporters of secession grant that Weld County has its own divide between urban and rural residents, and concede that the formation of a new state isn’t sure to heal the fissure.

Secessionists contend a “yes” vote would send a message to politicians in Denver. There may be some truth to that, but there are other, less costly ways to send such a message. And even supporters of the new state say that leaders at the capitol have already taken greater notice of rural Colorado.

Hickenlooper, himself, has signaled a renewed willingness to engage in constructive dialogue.

“If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive,” Hickenlooper told the Craig Daily Press. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”

To the degree that the secession movement has resulted in a better place at the table for Weld and other rural counties, the commissioners and their allies deserve credit for that. However, it’s unlikely that pushing the 51st state movement further will accomplish more. In fact, any effort to continue further down the rabbit’s hole of secession will only squander the real opportunity that exists to address the divide facing this state and much of the country. To do that, we must engage our urban counterparts in real dialogue. The legislators who represent Weld and other rural communities must play a more effective role in that conversation than they have in the recent past. But we also must have a conversation among ourselves as residents of a rural part of the state. We must work to reach a real consensus about which policies are of vital importance to our way of life and which can be traded as bargaining chips.

In a new state or the old, dialogue and smart, effective leadership offer the only real hope of bridging the divide between us. Secession is simply a distraction.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

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