51st State Initiative loses in 6 of 11 counties, Weld County says no by 57% to 43%

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

The vote in Weld County had to hurt backers of secession. The movement originated there over the summer. Here’s a report from T.M. Fasano writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Weld County voters decided against secession and the creation of a 51st state Tuesday, defeating the initiative 57 percent to 43 percent. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he respects the decision of residents who voted down the 51st state initiative by double digits, but he said the dialogue regarding rural counties being heard has just begun.

“You have to respect the voters’ decision. Weld County commissioners will not pursue a 51st state, but we will pursue other options that I think address the problem,” Conway said from a Weld County election watch party in Fort Lupton. “The (disconnect) problem still exists. I think it’s incumbent upon us to continue this dialogue, which began in June to address the disconnect between rural and urban communities in Colorado, and come together to try and find a solution to addressing that problem.”

Weld County was one of 10 northeastern Colorado counties asking voters if they would like to secede from Colorado and form a new state. Moffat County, in northwest Colorado, joined the other 10 counties. After four community meetings around the county with Weld residents, the Weld commissioners chose to put the 51st proposal on the ballot and other communities followed.

Of the 11 counties voting, six (Weld, Logan, Elbert, Sedgwick, Lincoln and Moffat) voted down the 51st state proposal and five (Phillips, Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Yuma and Washington) voted for it. [ed. emphasis mine]

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said a lot of good work was done pursuing secession and the effort sent a message in just four months.

“We will regroup and work with other counties throughout the state of Colorado. I still think there was a message that was sent,” said Kirkmeyer. “I still think there was a lot of folks who said they feel disconnected from their state government, and that we need to look for some other answers. There still is a disconnect out there.”

Conway said the record turnout in an off-year election was wonderful.

“We will be working with our residents and other counties and our legislators to try and come up with a solution. When we began this in June, the governor didn’t even recognize that there was a divide. Many legislators didn’t understand that there was a divide. Today, everybody’s talking about it. I think what we’ve done in beginning this dialogue is a very, very positive thing.”

The complaints from the 11 counties came as a result of new gun regulations, proposed oil and gas legislation and a renewable energy bill for rural electric companies that commissioners said showed lawmakers in the Denver area weren’t listening to those in the rural counties.

Kirkmeyer said the proposal kick-started the discussion that government is supposed to be about compromise, cooperation and communication.

“If this turns things around and opens doors and people start working together more, I think all of that is a good thing,” Kirkmeyer said.

Steve Mazurana, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Northern Colorado, spoke out against the measure at a 51st state forum. He said after the votes were counted that the people who want to remain in Colorado have spoken.

“They decided they’re better off staying in the state of Colorado rather than going into the great unknown of the process of becoming another state,” Mazurana said. “I think that’s wise because the costs outweigh the benefits.”

Mazurana said county commissioners have job responsibilities, and there are things that they should be doing and things they shouldn’t be doing.

“There are things somewhere in the middle of where it’s allowable, but I think it’s probably pretty clear under any state constitution that part of the job of a county commissioner is not to be the spearhead for seceding from the state,” Mazurana said. “That, I think, is not ethically responsible. I think if commissioners in Weld County feel that they need to be a part of another state, then they should resign their office and carry on as a private citizen because the only way you put that on the constitutional ballot is to go to a vote of all the people of Colorado, not just a handful of counties.”

Voters exiting the ballot drop-off site at the Windsor Community Recreation Center were mixed on the 51st state vote.

Kim Larson of Eaton, who is a Colorado native, voted against the 51st state proposal.

“My view is that to become a state involves a lot more than it would be worth, and I’m proud to be part of the state of Colorado,” Larson said. “The amount of change that has to happen. They have to think of school districts, about disaster relief if we have a flood again. To create a state that would have that type of funding, I can’t even imagine how much they would have to tax residents to create this small state that would be completely self reliant. Not to mention water sources. We don’t have an independent water source in Weld County. All of our water comes from other parts of the state.”

Jeff Dykstra of Windsor voted against the proposal, but saw both sides of the argument.

“I think it’s a great way to bring attention to the politicians to maybe give a little more focused attention on us here in northern Colorado, but I’m not sure that separating from the state and creating another state is the right answer,” Dykstra said. “I can see both sides of it.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here

‘It’s really a referendum on how the state Legislature has been running over rural Colorado’ — John Kinkaid

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

For a motorist approaching Craig from the south on Colorado Highway 13 on a snowy October morning, Moffat County’s economic engines are well-displayed. Signs indicate the turnoffs to the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines. The towers of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Craig Station coal-generated power plant loom just south of Craig. Pronghorn and mule deer — two prime targets of hunting in the county — share a field just before reaching the city.

Mess with such industries, and you’re threatening the livelihood of communities like Craig, where many businesses sport signs saying, “Coal — It keeps our lights on.” It was local concern about perceived over-regulation of coal-fired power that led to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visiting Craig during his campaign and presenting himself as a more coal-friendly alternative to President Barack Obama. Now that continuing concern is behind the county commissioners’ decision to ask voters whether Moffat should join counties in eastern Colorado in pursuing creation of a 51st state.

“Energy is our economy. If energy goes away, we will be a ghost town,” said Moffat Commissioner John Kinkaid.

The county’s list of top 10 taxpayers reads like a who’s-who of locally operating energy companies, with Tri-State alone accounting for nearly $6 million of the $17.4 million the 10 paid last year.

Kinkaid first brought up the idea of secession to his fellow commissioners.

“I was getting called by constituents here in our county asking for us to pursue it and so it didn’t really come from us as commissioners, it came from citizens contacting us,” Kinkaid said.

“Finally they bugged me enough that I said alright, I’d bring it up in a meeting, and I did and it just took off from there.”

“… It’s really a referendum on how the state Legislature has been running over rural Colorado. Many of us in Moffat County feel disenfranchised and that the Denver-Boulder power corridor is just running us over repeatedly,” Kinkaid said.

For Kinkaid it started with the 2010 passage of legislation aimed at converting some Front Range Xcel Energy power plant generation from coal to cleaner-burning fuels such as natural gas.

“We feel like we were just ignored over here and that it was a done deal before it was even introduced.

“… They were buying their coal from us. That’s why we were so involved and concerned about what was going on,” he said.

Then, this year the state Legislature passed a bill requiring rural energy cooperatives to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, up from a previous target of 10 percent. The requirement takes aim at Tri-State Generation and Transmission and is viewed by some as a threat to plants like the one near Craig.

“They didn’t take really any input from Tri-State as to whether it was even feasible to do it,” said Kinkaid, who retired as a control room operator at the plant after winning election as a county commissioner last fall as an unaffiliated, but conservative, candidate.

“And then throw in the gun legislation and I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kinkaid said.

That’s a reference to bills passed this year banning gun magazines with more than 15 rounds and requiring universal background checks before sales or transfers of guns.

Said Moffat Commissioner Chuck Grobe, “They’re just passing laws that affect us and they don’t care what we say or what our feelings or thoughts are.

“… When the hunters decided to stay away because of our gun laws, that affects rural Colorado and not so much the Front Range. So that’s where the frustration comes in.”

IDEA NOT THOUGHT OUT?

While Grobe shares in that frustration, he voted against putting the secession question on the ballot, with Commissioner Tom Mathers siding with Kinkaid.

“It’s not necessarily that I was against it. It was that there was no discussion beforehand. This just came out of the clear blue a week before it had to be on the ballot. There wasn’t any discussion with the city of Craig,” he said.

He said the commissioners hadn’t looked into the idea first to see what the implications of secession might be, particularly as it pertains to what might happen regarding water rights in the county if it left the state. (See related story, “Water a big question mark for secession.”)

Grobe said he’s spoken to a water attorney, and “finding out that we’ll lose our water rights, that’s a pretty key issue on my mind moving forward.”

He said Tri-State is concerned about water rights for its plant if secession happens, and he worries what the water implications for coal mines could be as well.

As it turns out, the City Council of Craig, the county seat, voted unanimously against the secession idea, due to water and other worries.

“We were completely against it because we don’t think it was thought out as far as the ramifications it could have,” said council member Joe Bird.

He cited not just water but concerns about loss of state funding for highways, other infrastructure and schools.

That said, Bird sympathizes with the motives behind the secession movement.

“I understand them wanting to make a statement and their frustration and the Legislature not listening to them,” said Bird, who additionally said coal mines and the power plant provide jobs, a tax base and long-term stability for Craig.

CONSIDERABLE OBSTACLES

As far as making a statement goes, Moffat’s secession vote may indeed end up being more symbolic than anything else, as the obstacles against it are many, which Kinkaid acknowledged.

“It’s sending a message, but we need to change the political calculus at the state Capitol,” he said.

Moffat’s problems are compounded by the fact that it’s not contiguous with the eastern Colorado counties also talking about secession. And Kinkaid concedes the chances are slim of counties between Moffat and the eastern counties pursuing secession as well. Some of those counties hold political views distinctly different from Moffat’s.

Other options include trying to join Wyoming or Utah. Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, has been quoted in the media as saying Moffat’s secession discussion “does not move us forward” at a time when the country and Wyoming face significant challenges.

“I guess they’re not interested in Baja Wyoming,” Kinkaid said with a grin.

A statement from Mead’s office released by MacKay on Thursday noted, “The ballot language is specific to Moffat County creating a 51st state. Given that — this is a matter for voters in Moffat County to decide. We in Wyoming will follow the election results as will many others around the region.”

STUPID, OR NOT?

Views vary widely in the Craig area about the secession idea.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. We have a perfectly good state. What are we messing around for?” said Ellen Johnson.

But Van Piland said he voted for the measure.

“I think most of the people in northwest Colorado would like to have more appropriate representation in Denver or else go to Wyoming,” he said.

Amy Updike said that while it doesn’t necessarily mean she supports secession, she voted in support of at least looking into it.

“Why not? The governor (John Hickenlooper) is not looking out for communities like ours,” she said.

Maurits De Blank, who lives in Miami but runs apartments in Craig, said the proposal “makes no sense” and just reflects local frustrations with Denver.

“There’s just no chance whatsoever in my view” that secession would occur, said De Blank, who shares in the desire to protect Craig’s coal-based economy.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said Garfield commissioners haven’t considered the secession idea, but understand Moffat’s frustration.

“A lot of people see a war against rural Colorado from the Front Range and that’s what’s really stirring it up,” he said.

Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson is chairman of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which includes Garfield, Mesa, Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. He said he thinks everyone in the association is sympathetic to the 51st-state cause. He doesn’t think the secession idea has much chance of succeeding, but hopes Front Range lawmakers will show more consideration for northwest Colorado, a big source of state revenue thanks to its natural resources.

“I feel like we’ve been ignored in a lot of instances,” he said.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative: Whither water rights if secession is successful?

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Among the questions that surround the idea of Moffat and other Colorado counties seceding from the state, none may be murkier than the one surrounding water rights.

“That would be a tremendous court battle, I’m sure,” said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, also chairman of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.

Already, differing opinions abound about what secession might mean when it comes to water. Craig’s City Council unanimously voted against the idea of secession partly after being advised it could create problems for water rights in the county. Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, who led the effort to get the secession question on the county ballot, said those behind the 51st-state movement in Colorado have assured that water rights would remain with their owners even with a change in state.

Said Samson, “You could talk to a dozen different lawyers and get a dozen different opinions as to what would happen.”

Chris Treese, who’s not an attorney but is external affairs director for the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs, warns of significant consequences arising from the Colorado River compact if counties form a new state. Treese said the river compact forbids the use of Colorado River water outside seven basin states and Mexico, the parties to the compact.

Compact concerns led to Rio Blanco County commissioners deciding against pursuing the secession idea even though they share some of the political frustrations that led Moffat commissioners to put the measure on the ballot.

Moffat’s situation is different from eastern Colorado’s, in that Moffat has the Yampa River, part of the Colorado River watershed, flowing through it, Treese said.

“I have no idea how that would have to be handled, but it clearly is something that is not contemplated by the language of the compact,” he said.

Scott Balcomb, a Glenwood Springs water attorney who used to serve as Colorado’s representative to meetings of the seven basin states, isn’t as worried about how such matters would be handled. He said he thinks a new state carved out of Colorado would simply end up with some of Colorado’s water allocation under the compact.

He also thinks existing water rights, including transmountain diversions, would have to be honored if a new state was created, just as existing rights were honored when Colorado and other western states became states.

“(Water) use is a property right and you can’t affect property rights,” he said.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

The Weld County Council says Weld County Commissioners are OK to advocate for 51st State Initiative

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

Update: The editorial board of The Greeley Tribune are blasting the Weld County Council over their decision:

If the members of the Weld County Council were trying to throw away their credibility and violate the public’s trust, they accomplished their goals when they voted in secret to table an inquiry into the Board of Weld County Commissioners’ secession efforts and then withheld that decision from the public for more than a week.

From the start three weeks ago, when a group of Greeley attorneys sent a letter to the council questioning the authority of the Weld County commissioners to initiate the 51st state movement and seeking a decision from an independent attorney, the council faced a minefield of potential conflicts of interest and questions about fairness.

» One member of the council, Jeffrey Hare, is a vocal supporter of secession who has played a key role in organizing the 51st state initiative.

» Two other members of the five-member council also have publicly voiced support for secession, the Greeley attorneys said.

» The council’s attorney, Bruce Barker, also represents the commissioners, which calls into question his ability to offer an impartial decision.

Late Wednesday, the council, which is charged with overseeing the commissioners, announced its decision to drop the inquiry in a news release, stating commissioners were acting within their authority. Council Chairman Don Mueller said the decision was made following executive session deliberations, which came at the end of an Oct. 21 public meeting.

However, by the time council members made their announcement about going into executive session — and made their decision — nearly all of the roughly 100 people who had turned up for the meeting were gone, including the council’s attorney. They were gone because Mueller said during the meeting that the council would not make a decision that night. Additionally, the agenda for the meeting made no reference to an executive decision or to a vote.

On Tuesday, Mueller told the Tribune that no decision had been made.

The next day, after announcing the decision, Mueller said council members had debated keeping the decision secret until after Tuesday’s election, when voters would make a decision on a secession-related ballot question.

The council’s behavior evokes the worst kind of back-room dealings and shady politics that have led many Americans to feel jaded about their government. But it’s worse than that. The council’s decision to go into executive session raises a host of questions about whether council members acted legally. According to Colorado open records law, local executive sessions are limited to discussions on security arrangements, property transactions, negotiations (such as with employee organizations), personnel or to seek the advice of legal counsel.

The council did not get legal advice — the only justification for an executive session in this context — because its attorney wasn’t there.

It’s easy, of course, to view these actions as a cynical, calculated and overt effort to keep the public from knowing what its elected representatives were doing. However, we know the members of the county council, and we know they are honest, hardworking public servants. That suggests simple incompetence is the most likely explanation for the council’s blatant breach of the public’s trust.

Still, that doesn’t excuse it.

The members of the council trampled upon the most basic tenant of democracy, which state’s that the people’s business must be conducted in public. In doing so, they stooped to the same kind of closed-door tactics that supporters of secession claim spurred them to seek a split from the state.

To say that we’re bitterly disappointed is an understatement. We all deserve much better from our elected representatives.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

The Weld County Council on Wednesday announced a decision that Weld County Commissioners can advocate for the 51st state question, bringing to light a legally questionable procedure before the council voted on the matter and misleading statements about when a decision would be made. Council members voted at an Oct. 21 hearing that county commissioners have legal authority to advocate for the 51st state movement, even though they said during the hearing and again this week that they had not yet made a decision on the matter. Don Mueller, chairman of the county council, said members called a short recess after the Oct. 21 hearing and then went into an executive session to discuss it. They then came out of the executive session and voted in favor of a statement that says the ballot initiative does not increase or expand Weld County commissioners’ power beyond what is statutorily allowed.

According to Colorado open meeting law, local governmental executive sessions are limited to discussions on security arrangements, property transactions, negotiations, such as with employee organizations, personnel, or to seek the advice of legal counsel, and entities must announce that they are going into a session and why.

Mueller said the county council did announce publicly that they would go into executive session. But the council had called a recess first and most people who attended the hearing had left by the time the executive session was announced. Council members only discussed the 51st state issue but did not seek any legal advice, he said.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker said he was not present for the discussion.

During the hearing on Oct. 21, Mueller said council members would digest the information presented to them and that they would not make a decision that night.

“Our function this evening is that of listeners,” Mueller said at the hearing.

In the agenda posted for that Weld County Council meeting, there is also no indication the council would go into an executive session.

Mueller said four members of the five-member council voted in favor of the action, with Bernard Kinnick voting against it because he wanted to wait to take any action until after Election Day. One member of the county council, Jeffrey Hare, helped organize the 51st state initiative and serves as its spokesman.

Mueller told The Tribune in an interview on Tuesday that members had still not taken any official action on the matter, and that council members would not hire an independent attorney or make any decision until sometime next week.

Mueller said on Wednesday the council was, in fact, waiting to announce its vote, and later decided the vote should be made public. He said the vote will not technically be final until recorded minutes are approved at the county council’s next meeting.

Bob Ruyle, one of three Greeley attorneys who called on the Weld County Council to review commissioners’ authority regarding the 51st state initiative, said they had recently submitted written responses to Barker’s arguments, so it’s a shame those arguments won’t ever be reviewed.

The three men argued that Weld commissioners can’t legally spend time and money exploring the 51st state and lobbying state lawmakers to push it forward. They said the state Constitution explicitly says only Colorado citizens have the authority to alter or dissolve their government, but the power of commissioners is limited to what is listed in state statute.

“All I can tell you is, we tried, and are disappointed in the results,” Ruyle said.

Barker said at the council meeting last week that there are ways for commissioners to legally express support for the 51st state to lawmakers if it passes, and he said the only official action commissioners have taken on the movement so far was a resolution to put it on the ballot, which is within their scope of power.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative: ‘…we’ve made huge progress’ — Sean Conway

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

From KUNC (Erin OToole):

Conway says the discussion has helped draw attention to important issues behind the movement, especially the sense of increasing alienation between rural counties and the state’s political center in Denver.

“Even if this vote is unsuccessful in some or all of the counties next Tuesday, we’ve made huge progress… in terms of pointing out what, essentially, started this,” Conway said. “We’re now at the point where everybody, including the governor – who previously didn’t acknowledge the problem – acknowledges the problem. Legislative leaders acknowledge the problem.”

If the vote does favor the effort, Conway says he expects more counties to join the breakaway movement.

“I think a lot of counties are sitting on the sidelines right now, saying ‘let’s see what happens Tuesday,’ ” Conway said. “So I think you’ll see additional counties decide to become part of this.”

If voters decline to approve the measure, Conway says they won’t press the issue. A few lawmakers are working on alternative ideas, including a plan to change the way rural, sparsely populated counties are represented at the capitol.

For Conway, the time and effort was worth it to get the message across to state leaders.

Meanwhile US Senate candidate Ken Buck is not on board with the movement. Here’s a report from Kurtis Lee writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said Wednesday he will vote in opposition to a rural effort to secede from Colorado and form a 51st state.

“I think the better strategy is to work to defeat the out-of-touch politicians causing this feel of separation,” said Buck, a GOP candidate in 2014 for U.S. Senate. Five Republicans have announced their candidacies and are vying to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall…

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” he said of the secession plan. “But there are a lot of people who feel strongly they’re being ignored. My wife, Perry, and I are traveling around the state on weekends and that sentiment is wide spread.”

Jeffrey Hare, co-founder of 51st State Initiative, said told The Denver Post Monday many rural voters, especially in Weld County, have sent in their mail-in ballots — a good indicator they back the idea of breaking away from Colorado.

“Those early rural voters seem to us to be very motivated in getting in their ballots and supporting this initiative,” Hare told the Post. “But we’ll see on election night, of course.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is proposing a 2.135 mill property tax increase

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Pitkin County residents should receive their mail-in ballots for the Nov. 5 election starting this week. In addition to some statewide measures, Snowmass Village residents will be asked to approve a mill levy of 2.135 mills that would fund the replacement of aging water and sewer infrastructure, much of which is 30 to 50 years old, according to the district.

Emergency repairs are becoming more commonplace and taking away funding from proactive replacement projects. They also cost more than scheduled repairs, said Kit Hamby, director of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District…

Dave Spence, former president of the water board, said no one wants to see property taxes go up. However, most residents would probably “rather do it and be sure that the pipes are still working” than not have a replacement program, he said. Spence joined the board after pipes running to his building broke during the holiday season many years ago…

The only naysayers of district projects in the past were members of the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus, Spence said. Most of those individuals are supportive of measure 5A because it will conserve more of the precious water that the district diverts from Snowmass Creek.

More infrastructure coverage here.

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.