If Greeley residents had not voted in last week’s election, the 51st state initiative still would have been shot down by Weld County voters, according to a breakdown of ballots provided by the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Without Greeley voters included, 52 percent of Weld County voters would have chosen not to move forward with seceding from the state of Colorado, versus 48 percent who voted for the measure.
The final count on the 51st state question was 56 percent of Weld County voters against secession, compared to 44 percent in support. In Greeley, voters strongly rejected the measure 67 percent to 33 percent.
Some say the disparity between the way Greeley and the rest of the county voted points to a difference in values. Weld County commissioners last week said they feel the rural-urban divide also exists within the county. Others say the fact that Greeley voters rejected the 51st state by a wider margin has nothing to do with a disconnect. They point to the fact that the rest of Weld County also voted against the measure as reason to argue the rural-urban divide issue is overblown. Critics say Weld County commissioners may have a disconnect with the rest of their electorate.
None of Weld County’s five commissioners responded to repeated requests from The Tribune seeking comment regarding how the county voted on the 51st state initiative. But commissioners said after Election Day that they put the question to a vote specifically to see what their electorate thought of secession.
Commissioners said they would honor the vote of the people and would not move forward with seceding from the state, but they vowed to continue to fight for rural interests at the state level. They said the vote was still a success in the sense that a message was sent to state legislators and the governor that a substantial portion of people in rural Colorado feel they have lost their voices.
“I think we have to be careful in saying that because they rejected the vote, there isn’t a problem,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said last week.
Commissioners also sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office saying they would like to find a time for him to meet with Ault, Fort Lupton, Tri-Town and Evans residents before the 2014 legislative session.
“We received the Weld County commissioners’ letter and are reviewing the governor’s upcoming schedule to find more opportunities for the governor to visit Weld and other rural counties,” said Eric Brown, spokesman for the governor’s office, in a statement.
He said Hickenlooper was in Weld County on Sept. 16, 22, and 23 and on Oct. 23, and has made an effort to visit with all Coloradans.
Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, who has served as a state lawmaker, said he doubts the state Legislature is any more divided today than it was when he was a representative.
“I don’t think it means anything,” Norton said of the 51st state vote. “It just means that people don’t want it.”
Jeffrey Hare, a founder of the 51st state initiative and its spokesman, said he feels there is a disconnect between Greeley and the rest of the county.
“I would say that it is a little unfortunate that the city of Greeley has forgotten its agricultural roots,” Hare said.
He said he feels the fact 43 percent of Weld voters supported the initiative makes it a “resounding success.” Secession is still a new idea to many people, he said, but 43 percent is a strong plurality on which to build for a renewed secession effort in 2014.
Hare said the five counties that did vote for the initiative — Kit Carson, Washington, Phillips, Yuma and Cheyenne counties — will meet Monday to discuss their next steps in the movement.
While it was possible to track how the city of Greeley voted versus the rest of the county, other communities were not as easily identified. Ballots were not separated by precinct, but by blocks for different districts that held an election this year, said Rudy Santos, elections manager for the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Hare’s suggestion that Greeley has lost touch with its agricultural roots was refuted by local officials.
Sarah MacQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, said the city is anchored on the east and west by symbols of Weld County’s agricultural prosperity, with a JBS USA office to the west and Leprino Foods to the east.
“I still believe people in Greeley very much so understand our agrarian roots and appreciate the fact that we are an agricultural county, and appreciate that economic impact,” MacQuiddy said.
Steve Mazurana, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Northern Colorado who opposed the 51st state initiative, said he sees the differences between Greeley and rural areas of the county as a simple disparity in needs and behaviors. But he said that doesn’t stretch into a difference in ideas and values. For example, Greeley and Windsor residents probably lock the doors to their homes during the day. But that doesn’t necessarily point to a difference in values compared to rural areas, where the practice may be to leave them unlocked. That’s a difference in how residents are dealing with their surroundings, which is a fact of life in any state or county, he said. Mazurana said he feels there are just as many rural residents who are unwilling to accept incoming urban ideas and values as there are urban dwellers who rural residents say are attacking their way of life.
Critics say commissioners are elected by all who live in Weld, including municipalities, and a dedication to only rural needs is a disconnect between commissioners and their electorate.
But most of Weld County commissioners’ control is over unincorporated parts of the county, meaning they are rightly more sensitive to the needs of rural areas, Mazurana said.