2014 Colorado legislation: Ag leaders hope to bridge the Ag-Urban divide this session #COleg

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

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candace Krebs):

While leaders meeting recently in Loveland considered last year’s general assembly a failure and even a disaster, they could at least take solace knowing they made headway in getting their concerns heard. A nationally publicized secession campaign in northeastern Colorado gained enough traction to help unseat two prominent Democratic legislators and forced a third to resign in order to keep the seat under Democratic control.

National media has tended to portray gun legislation as the biggest source of the rift. Clearly, gun control laws are unpopular among farmers, many of whom hunt or live in remote areas where local law enforcement is hindered from responding quickly to security concerns.

But ag leaders who met in mid-December seemed to indicate that House Bill 252, mandating the state get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, had driven the deepest wedge.
Rep. Lori Saine, a House ag committee member from the Fort Lupton area and one of several lawmakers who met with farmers during a legislative town hall event, described it as an “injustice” that would end up boosting electricity rates by 20 percent in rural areas while having little or no impact on Front Range utilities.

Greg Brophy, of Wray, a state senator and Republican candidate for governor, advocated the repeal of 252, saying it needed to be eliminated before any money was sunk into meeting the new requirements.

Among the bill’s criticisms is that it does not include hydropower as a renewable energy source. Hydropower makes up a significant portion of the energy portfolio for rural electric cooperatives, and hopes are widespread that further hydropower development can be piggybacked onto infrastructural improvements needed following the August floods.

Others questioned whether the new bill would actually contribute to a cleaner environment.
Randy Traxler, a wheat farmer from Otis, pointed out that coal is still being mined in the West, only now it’s being exported to China, a country where pollution controls are lax…

Rep. Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins, is chairman of the House ag committee.

“My sense is agriculture is very well represented at the legislature, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into total agreement on all of these issues,” he said at one point.
However, he added, there does appear to be an urban-rural “disconnect.”

“I think it’s real, and I think it’s something the state needs to address,” he said during a panel wrap-up.

His statements drew a compliment from Wray’s Brophy, who sits on the state’s Senate ag committee.

“I’ve watched you really grow into your role as committee chairman,” Brophy said to Fischer, recalling how his House colleague went from sponsoring the infamous “tractor tax” targeting heavy equipment emissions in 2010 to backing important water conservation legislation this year to study groundwater management alternatives along the South Platte River.

Brophy called it “the most significant water bill of the year for farmers.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

51st State Initiative: ‘If anything, I actually think it built up walls’ — Mark Ferrandino

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

From The Greeley Tribune (T.M. Fasano):

Let the dialogue begin about solving the problems of Colorado’s urban/rural political divide. Or not. After the 51st state initiative failed in Weld County on Nov. 5 by 56 percent to 44 percent, Weld commissioners Sean Conway and Barbara Kirkmeyer said the effort to secede from Colorado started dialogue around the state regarding rural counties’ needs not being considered by lawmakers in the Denver-metro area.

“If the entire effort was to send a message, message received,” Conway said. “I think we have kick-started a very important dialogue that I look forward to participating in as we move forward. We’re not going away.”

Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, though, has a different opinion.

“If anything, I actually think it built up walls,” Ferrandino said in a phone interview from Denver. “I have known Sean for a while. He’s always welcome in my office, but doing this type of stuff doesn’t build bridges. It puts up walls. Saying, ‘We just want to be a different state,’ doesn’t say, ‘We want to work together to find the right policies for this state.’”

Ferrandino said Denver legislators won’t shut out rural Weld officials because of the 51st state effort. But, he added, “there’s a group now who are seen I think by some as more out of touch, especially when Commissioner Conway is the one pushing it and then his county doesn’t even vote for it. I think he’s out of touch with his own voters. If he’s supposed to be advocating for his constituents and he’s supposed to have a pulse on his constituents, then you would think he’d be able to get more support than that. He should talk to some of his other constituents who voted against his measure.”

Ferrandino added that having a meaningful discussion is important and he vows to be part of that, but he believes the 51st state issue was perceived by many across the state as “throwing a tantrum.”

“That’s not the right process,” he said. “We have a process in place, and we should use that process. I’m glad to see that it didn’t pass because we have a fundamental belief in our democratic process. You organize and you work to elect people who will agree with you. You don’t just say, ‘We’re going to take our toys and go home.’ I think it is a small group of people who are not happy with what’s going on and trying to make political hay out of it.”

WHAT NOW?

The big question now is: What can be done to get Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Democratic-dominated legislature to be more attentive to the concerns and needs of rural Colorado?

“We understand that some rural areas still feel under-represented and are not being heard. We remain committed to listening more and working with local communities all across Colorado,” Gov. Hickenlooper said in an email response Friday.

Eric Brown, director of communications for the governor, said Hickenlooper will continue to reach out to Weld County and other rural areas.

“The vote in Weld County doesn’t change our intent to continue talking to residents there or in other counties,” Brown said. “The governor held community meetings this fall on the eastern plains, in southern Colorado and on the Western Slope — and he’s been in Weld County four times in the past two months.”

Conway said the county commissioners began the journey in June with the recognition that the political divide exists, and it’s not going away.

“I think we’re going to be at the Legislature in January looking for ways to do this. We’re going to be engaging with our state legislators who, quite frankly, have been AWOL,” Conway said.

Even though 56 percent of the voters (more than 36,260) voted against the 51st state, Conway takes solace in the fact that 44 percent (28,107 yes votes) wanted a change.

“Clearly, there’s frustration out there that needs to be addressed,” Conway said. “Do we really think the governor would be saying, ‘I’m going to come to Weld County more often. That I’m going to listen more. That I’ve got to lean in more. I’ve got to have more of a dialogue here,’ if we hadn’t had this discussion? I doubt it.”

The Divide Goes Beyond Denver

If you ask Conway, the political divide between rural and urban areas isn’t just about the Denver-metro lawmakers. Conway called out Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, as being part of the problem.

“I think we accomplished a lot in the last few months in terms of opening up this dialogue, getting attention at the state capitol, getting the attention of legislators, including some of our own legislators in Weld County who were, quite frankly, part of the problem,” Conway said. “When you have a Dave Young, who votes against oil and gas bills that are absolutely paramount to Weld County. I want to see if he’s going to listen more. Is he going to engage more? I couldn’t get a meeting last year during the legislative session with Rep. Young. Is he going to become an active participant in this dialogue? Does he recognize there’s a problem out there?”

In response to Conway’s comments, Young said he’s had numerous interactions with Conway.

“I’m a little disappointed that he would say that he tried to set up a meeting with me and that he couldn’t get it done,” Young said. “I met with all five commissioners, at their request, after the flooding occurred to really get a sense of what was going on in the county and tell them what I was working on. I make myself extremely available. He has attended my town hall meetings that I’ve had. I’m a little surprised that he would say that I’m unavailable.”

Young said his job is to represent the people in his district.

“There are other representatives who represent other parts of northern Colorado that are primarily rural. My district, I don’t know if you really can call it urban but I don’t think it would be called rural,” Young said. “I know from lots of conversations with people in my district that we’re very sensitive to the issues of rural folks. Our economy in Weld County is driven primarily by agriculture, and that we need to really look out for the concerns of the ag community. Certainly, we’ve gotten economic benefits from the energy sector, as well, and oil and gas. I’m trying to work pretty carefully with them as well to make sure that we balance the needs of our economy and the need to make sure people’s health and safety are protected.”

ANOTHER PROPOSAL FOR RURAL AREAS

Kirkmeyer said a positive thing that came out of the 51st state initiative was the Phillips County plan which would set representation throughout the state based on geography rather than population.

“That is something we will continue to work on and push,” Kirkmeyer said. “This is just the first chapter.”

The Phillips County plan would base either the state House or Senate representation on area instead of population, similar to Congress in which the House of Representatives is based on population, but the Senate has two senators from every state no matter the population.

“We look forward to working with those counties who put this on the ballot. We have been working on this Phillips County idea, which came out of this,” Conway said. “Without this discussion, we would never have come up with this Phillips County idea. I think that’s gaining momentum. Quite frankly, I think that potentially could be the solution out there. We’ll see as we proceed forward.”

Ferrandino said it’s his understanding that based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Phillips County plan would be unconstitutional.

“Everyone I talked to and all of our non-partisan legal staff seems to think the court is pretty clear,” he said. “While I understand the idea around it, if you do it based on counties, there are counties that have a few thousand people and giving them more representation might be a worthwhile goal, but the over 600,00 people who live in Denver, who I represent over 10 percent of them, losing their representation is a problem and making them have less of a voice is not a fair way either.”

Ferrandino said there has been division in the state before, but not to the point of trying to form a new state.

“Every state goes through that. Colorado is changing both demographically and politically over the last couple of decades, and that’s going to continue,” Ferrandino said. “Anytime change happens, there are always people who try to stop change and that causes issues.”

John Straayer, a political analyst and political science professor for 47 years at Colorado State University, said the Phillips County plan is a non-starter because of the Reynolds vs. Sims 1964 Supreme Court case that ruled that all districts in any state legislature must be equal in population.

“The case law is very settled on that matter,” Straayer said. “Then there was one specific to Colorado, and it just blows my mind that nobody seems to have looked at it or paid attention to it. That followed Reynolds v. Sims the same year and the case is called Lucas v. Colorado. The peculiar thing for me through all of this is how in the world does this talk about the Phillips plan keeps going and going and going without some very clear recognition that it’s going to fly in the face of settled law, and that law has been settled now for half a century. You can’t do it. It’s unconstitutional.”

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Young agrees there are some urban/rural issues to discuss, but he thinks most issues are more complicated than that.

“I’m not sure I saw solutions being brought forward through the whole conversation on the 51st state, but we have issues around water that are of concern to everybody in the state,” Young said. “Agriculture uses 84 percent of our water, and they’re already claiming that there are impending shortages. If agriculture is affected, we’re all affected. It’s a complicated situation that we need to work together to resolve.

“Education is an issue that’s complicated. That cuts across urban versus rural. We’ve got children all across the state in small or large communities that need better access to education and quality education.”

Young agrees that some people don’t feel as if they have a voice at the table, which to him sounds like a communication problem.

“It’s of concern to me when people say they want to be heard, but then they want to isolate or separate themselves from those they expect to have listen to them,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be an effective solution.”

He added, “I think if you feel like you’re not being heard that you should be working harder to make sure you’re heard, and to me separating or seceding from the state has the opposite effect. I want to say without equivocation that I am certainly willing to work with others, whether they be Republicans or Democrats or other parties, to be part of the process of coming up with solutions. We have to craft solutions that work for all Coloradans.”

Ferrandino said there is a shift in population happening nationwide with more people moving to urban and suburban areas.

“That has implications, but when you look at the Flood (Disaster Study) Committee, it’s being chaired by a Republican (Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley) and Democrat (Young), both from Weld County,” Ferrandino said. “I think people in urban areas understand the issues and try to understand the issues in rural areas, and rural areas try to understand the issues in urban areas. They’re different, and we have to balance both of those. But we’re all one state and we have to look out for the best interests of the entire state.”

Ferrandino believes it’s vital to have an open-door policy and listen to everyone.

“It doesn’t mean you always agree, but everyone has to have the right to have their voice heard,” Ferrandino said. “A lot of people who say we won’t listen never come down to talk to us. It’s funny that Sean says we don’t listen when he’s always welcome to call me and always welcome to come and have a meeting with me, and he has had meetings with me. The best policies are when people sit around the table and discuss things in a meaningful way, that they understand that they’re not going to get everything that they want. A 51st state strategy is about getting everything you want. It’s saying. “We don’t want to compromise.’ It’s kind of like the Republicans in D.C. who shut down the government. ‘We don’t want to negotiate. We want our way or no way at all.’ ”

Straayer thinks the debate will continue between rural versus urban residents.

“The grievances that some folks have felt being slighted perhaps or not having their voice heard adequately in the legislature, I think, that concern will probably continue,” Straayer said. “There will be continued efforts to press the rural message and the rural agenda. The fact of the matter is that the people live on the Front Range and the urban area. That’s where political clout is. I think if the rural areas that lean heavily Republican want to have their concerns addressed more effectively, they’ve got to get more Republicans elected.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

The 51st State Initiative: Weld County rural-urban divide issue overblown?

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

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.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative: Advocates are now looking to legislation and mutual respect to fix the urban-rural divide

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

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

Proponents of a failed move to secede from Colorado say they will now look to the legislature for help in giving their counties more political clout.

“The issue has not gone away for us,” Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer said. “We have no voice in how this state is run and we will still try to rectify that.”

Eleven rural Colorado counties voted Tuesday on the question of whether their commissioners should proceed with plans to create a 51st state. Phillips County was one of five counties where the non-binding measure passed.

The other four counties were Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Washington and Yuma. Together, the five counties have a total population of about 29,200.

The measure failed 58 percent to 42 percent in Weld County — population 263,691 — where the 51st state idea first gained traction. Elbert, Lincoln, Logan, Moffat and Sedgwick counties also voted against secession.

Secession critic and retired University of Northern Colorado political science Prof. Steve Mazurana said the notion of breaking up with the Centennial State is all but dead.

“Without Weld County, the efforts to secede will go nowhere, at least for the next decade,” said Mazurana.

Schafer said the 51st state movement will now look to state lawmakers, including State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to advance a measure in next year’s legislative session to change statewide representation. Once such proposal is the Phillips Plan which would have representatives elected by county, rather than by population.

But University of Colorado law professor Richard Collins said a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s cemented the “one man, one vote” concept into law. Those cases will block any move to put rural counties on par with urban counties, he said.

The counties could also try to reshape the boundaries of legislative districts. But the Colorado Supreme Court said redistricting only happens every 10 years.

“So the next time they can do that is 2021,” Collins said. “These efforts are almost as hopeless as the 51st state movement and I thought that was pretty hopeless.”

State Sen. Greg Brophy — who represents many of the 51st state counties — said the counties that voted against secession were just being “pragmatic.”

“I suspect what they were saying with their vote is they liked Colorado as it is,” said Brophy, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. “They just want a governor to represent them.”

Hickenlooper said he recognizes the frustration of the 51st state followers.

“While voters in six counties rejected the secession plan, we understand that some rural areas still feel underrepresented and are not being heard,” Hickenlooper said. “We remain committed to listening more and working with local communities all across Colorado.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Patrick Malone):

Voters passed secession initiatives in five rural, northeastern counties, while six counties rejected them. Perhaps more important than how many counties adopted the proposal was one that didn’t — Weld, the most populous and economically influential county where secession was on the ballot.

The five counties that passed secession measures have a combined population of 29,056. Even the least populous state in the nation, Wyoming, has 563,626 residents. Counties that rejected secession have 330,119 residents combined — 263,746 of whom live in Weld.

“There’s no doubt that if Weld had voted for this (Tuesday) night, it would have been a much different story,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, an architect of the 51st-state movement. “But the voters have spoken. We need to respect the voters’ wishes and look for other avenues to have that discussion.”

The new course for the movement is already taking shape, and it doesn’t involve leaving Colorado — quite the opposite. Conway said the next step is modeled after the measure voters passed in Phillips County on Tuesday, which would add seats in the state Legislature from rural Colorado.

That’s a tall order. It would require a constitutional change in the way legislative seats are apportioned. That would require approval by voters statewide. Before it could even reach the ballot, two-thirds of the Legislature or a sufficient number of petition signatures that would require plenty of urban support is necessary.

In other words, 51st-state organizers would need help from the parts of Colorado they sought to cast off if they are to elevate their political influence…

Instead of fortifying the urge to shake loose, Conway says the secession experiment has reminded rural Coloradans of the need to embrace the rest of the state — and hope that it reciprocates.

“The word came down from the voters: We’re proud to be Coloradans, and we love our state,” he said. “There’s nobody with guns in the street. Everybody got a chance to vote, and at the end of it all, everybody respects each other, even if they don’t agree.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative touts ‘OVERWHELMING success,’ works to broaden secession

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.

51st State Initiative: ‘Secession simply isn’t going to happen’ — Daniel Farber

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

Here’s a roundup of the issues around the 51st State Initiative (secession) from Alan Greenblatt writing for NPR.org. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“We’re rarely listened to when it comes to legislation,” says Butch White, the mayor of Ault. “I’m sure the vote will pass in Weld County quite easily.”

The Colorado counties aren’t alone. There’s been occasional talk of secession at various times in recent decades, but now the idea is showing signs of taking root across the map.

There is talk about and sometimes movement toward secession in several states. These are locally motivated startups, but they share some themes in common.

People in mostly conservative areas feel isolated living in states controlled by Democrats. Rural residents, in particular, believe their values are given no respect in capitols now completely dominated by urban and suburban interests.

Secession may be part of the same impulse that leads states to sue or otherwise try to block or nullify federal laws they don’t like. People are losing respect for institutions that don’t reflect their preferences and would prefer, to the extent possible, to extricate themselves from them.

“What we would like to do is gain representation for the northern people of the state,” says Mark Baird, spokesman for a committee seeking to split off part of California. “The only way to do that is to have our own state.”[…]

“You have issues that go way beyond gun rights,” says Anthony Navarro, owner of Colorado Shooting Sports, a gun shop in Greeley. “You have people in Boulder and Denver who have mostly come in from California and are dictating to the rest of the state.”[…]

“Greater Los Angeles has something like 34 representatives” in the California Assembly, says Baird, the spokesman for the Jefferson Declaration Committee. “The northern third of California has three.”[…]

Secession simply isn’t going to happen, says Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the issue. Creation of a new state would require the blessing of the state being spurned, as well as congressional approval.

It’s a Catch-22: People who want to secede because they lost influence don’t have the influence to make it happen.

“You’d have to persuade the U.S. Senate to add two more senators, but why would they do that, since that would dilute their own state’s influence and might well add votes to the opposing party?” Farber says.

From Bloomberg (Michael Tackett):

The shifting U.S. populations that are changing political outcomes have converged in Colorado. Just as in Virginia, young professionals who support gay rights are flooding into the state; like Texas and Arizona, Colorado’s surge in Hispanic population gives Democrats a shot at reversing statewide election results. And suburban women who support abortion rights and gun restrictions are turning away from a party advancing legislation hostile to both views.

“Colorado is a perfect example of demographic change leading to political change,” said Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver.

A wave of young professionals who now live in Denver and its suburbs, drawn by jobs in technology, health care and energy, coupled with a 40 percent increase in the Hispanic population since 2000, has brought almost 2 million new residents to the state since 1990, transforming alliances and reversing political course…

Republicans in Colorado and elsewhere are feeling the brunt of the change. President Barack Obama in his 2012 re-election won almost 60 percent of the vote among 18 to 39 year olds, exit polls showed, and 55 percent of women. Nationally, young voters, who by 7 in 10 support same-sex marriage, have caused politicians of both parties to reconsider their positions…

Nearby Jefferson County has gone from a place where Republicans racked up large margins to one that strategists in the White House now see as predictive in presidential elections because of its swing-vote character.

“We have different trends than other places,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “There’s been a large influx of young, generally well-educated people that drives not just political change but also cultural change. Metropolitan Denver now has more live music venues than Nashville or Austin.

That’s the kind of thing that is changing the energy.”

The youth vanguard, Hickenlooper said, also makes the state a “great magnet to attract entrepreneurs and business headquarters.”[…]

Hickenlooper and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, also a Democrat, have won statewide office with centrist economic policies, while Republicans have a growing subset aligned with the limited-government Tea Party movement, Wadhams said. It isn’t a recipe for his party’s revival.

Wadhams, whose family arrived in the state in 1890, said Republicans are on the wrong side of the demographic divide, and its potential nominees for high office, former Representative Tom Tancredo, who briefly sought the Republican nomination for president in 2012, and Ken Buck, who lost to Bennet, aren’t likely to help…

Republicans started to overreach in the late 1990s, said Floyd Ciruli, who has been polling in the state for 30 years. The Denver area, his data show, received 62 percent of new voters in the state, an increase of 263,000 in the metro area, and those voters tend to vote Democratic. He said Republicans spent too much time talking about “gays and God and guns.”

More 51st State Initiative (North Colorado Secession) coverage here.

Can the Weld County commissioners advocate for the 51st State Initiative?

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

A legal concern over Weld County commissioners’ involvement in the 51st state movement was whittled down on Monday to whether passage of the ballot proposal would give commissioners authority they don’t have.

The Weld County Council heard arguments for and against the idea at their regular meeting on Monday, per the request of three Greeley attorneys who originally said they would like council members to review whether commissioners could legally spend time exploring the idea and writing editorials on it. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting at the Weld County administration building in Greeley, and some clapped and groaned during public comment.

The three Greeley men — Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson — said wording in the ballot proposal means commissioners would be given the unauthorized power to advocate for the 51st state movement and to allocate taxpayer money to explore the creation of a new state.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker said a more proper time to debate whether commissioners have that power is to wait to see if the 51st state question passes. Even so, he said, commissioners could legally pass a resolution in support of the 51st state movement and show it to the General Assembly, or they could individually contact state legislators to advocate for the movement.

Ruyle disagreed, saying court precedent requires commissioners to act as a board in those matters, and the board can’t legally pursue the 51st state by advocating for it through state legislators.

The ballot proposal asks Weld voters whether they would like commissioners, “in concert with the county commissioners of other Colorado counties, (to) pursue those counties becoming the 51st state of the United States of America.”

Ruyle and Witwer said “pursuing” secession is outside of commissioners’ authority, but it was also outside of their authority to place something on the ballot that would give them that power.

Barker said commissioners wouldn’t have authority to pass a resolution that initiates secession, because the movement must go through the proper channels, including the state Legislature and a statewide ballot measure. But he said the ballot proposal does not initiate secession — it asks voters whether they would like commissioners to spend time and money exploring the 51st state movement. He cited several state court cases to support his argument that commissioners can budget money to investigate the effects of secession, saying they have wide discretion over the county budget.

Weld County Council Chairman Don Mueller said council members would not decide on anything on Monday, but were there to listen to each side’s arguments and “digest” the information. Still, some council members voiced their opinions on the matter.

Jeffrey Hare, a council member who is also a member of the 51st state movement and updates its Facebook page, told Ruyle and Witwer he felt they were “jumping the gun a little bit.”

“That’s your interpretation of what the referendum intends to do,” he said of the attorneys’ arguments.

Originally, Ruyle, Witwer and Dickson 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.

Barker said commissioners have so far acted legally because the Colorado statutes cited by the three Greeley attorneys pertain only to official actions, such as resolutions or ordinances. The only official 51st state action commissioners have taken is a resolution referring the 51st state question to the ballot. He said Weld County’s Home Rule Charter gives commissioners a process for putting an initiative or referendum on the ballot with no restrictions.

“The fact of the matter is, they haven’t done anything else,” Barker said.

More 51st State Initiative (North Colorado Secession) 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.

Business Week: Why Are So Many Counties Trying to Secede From Their States?

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

From Bloomberg Business Week (Claire Suddath)

“It’ll be North Colorado. Or maybe New Colorado,” says Jeffrey Hare, founder of the so-called 51st State Initiative and a resident of Weld County, currently in the northern part of regular Colorado. In November, residents of Weld and 10 other counties will vote to determine if residents are interested in seceding from the state. Hare says he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle and that forming a new state is much more complicated than just redrawing a few borders. New (or North) Colorado would have to come up with a school system, maintain its own roads, and collect taxes—the latter a tricky prospect for a state conceived by Tea Partiers. But Hare is so sick of “those people in Boulder,” as he calls them, that he’s willing to take a stab at it.

He’s not alone. Northern Californians are trying to assemble the new state of Jefferson—again. (They tried in 1941, going so far as to inaugurate a governor.) Last year, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula briefly considered independence from the downstate mitten. And in Maryland, a man named Scott Strzelczyk is leading a movement to allow the five westernmost, Republican-leaning counties to separate from the rest of the state. “Here at the state level, we’re controlled by a single party—Democrats—and we feel we have no other recourse,” he says. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to be our own state.”

It’s important to point out that none of these movements are attempts to secede from the United States. They’re not like the dozens of online petitions signed in the wake of President Obama’s re-election that sought to declare independence from America, and which were openly embraced by white nationalist groups. (Secession-happy Texas is keeping its petition alive; it had over 125,000 signatures before the federal shutdown took the petition temporarily offline.) And while the movements that are furthest along, those in Colorado and Maryland, are backed by Tea Partiers (you can find people urging each other to to sign up for the 51st State Initiative on the Tea Party Community website), not every proposed state would be populated with conservatives.

Last year, Arizona’s liberal-leaning Pima County, home to Tucson, tried to declare itself the state of Baja because it didn’t want to be governed by Arizona’s conservative majority. In a twist, the impetus for the Baja movement was a proposed bill that would have allowed Arizona to nullify federal laws it didn’t like; the bill was defeated. Pima was thus trying to secede from Arizona because Arizona was distancing itself from the U.S. Or, as early Baja organizer Paul Eckerstom told the Wall Street Journal at the time: “We actually want to stay in the union. It seems Arizona doesn’t.”[…]

The interesting thing about these new movements isn’t their likelihood of success, but the fact that they constitute blatant attempts at ideological gerrymandering. “In previous state secession movements, there was usually a sense of compromise in the end that often diffused these things,” says Michael Trinklein, author of Lost States, a book about past statehood movements, “but now that we’re so polarized, it’s feeling as if these are movements of last resort.”[…]

Leaders of Colorado’s 51st State Initiative have said they’re modeling their efforts on the Kansas movement. Hare points to a host of issues—Colorado’s alternative energy requirements, water rights, taxes—that compelled him to try breaking away from his home state. “But when we saw the gun control bills that were happening, myself and a couple of other people thought: How can we nullify this? The concept of statehood came out of that—we could bring a proper constitution to the new state,” he explained. A problem is that local voters have already recalled two state senators who proposed the gun control legislation and are in the process of trying to recall a third. So the 51st State Initiative is addressing something that has already been resolved via Colorado’s democratic process.

That’s the difference between the new crop of state secessions and its predecessors. The United States isn’t just divided into red and blue states; it has further split into red and blue counties. Instead of celebrating that together, they reach agreements that are essentially purple, people get angrier and angrier whenever the other color bleeds into their own.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Proponents and opponents of the 51st state measure on the Weld County ballot can agree on one thing: North Colorado would be different from what Colorado is now. But those on either side of the issue disagree on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

At a panel discussion hosted by the Greeley/Weld County League of Women Voters on Monday night, Weld County commissioners Barbara Kirkmeyer and Sean Conway said they believe a different state would not disenfranchise residents, as they feel our current state legislators do, while Bob Ruyle, a water attorney and a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, and Steve Mazurana, retired professor of political science at the University of Northern Colorado, said a new state would mean new problems.

Education, water, financial feasibility and commissioners’ legal authority to initiate the 51st state movement were whittled down to the finer points, the issues volleying among panelists as more than 200 people moaned and clucked their tongues during the forum at Hensel Phelps Theater at the Union Colony Civic Center.

“Whether this passes or not, the disconnect is a problem,” Conway said.

Mazurana said he wasn’t even sure of that. He said this year’s state legislation demonstrates the ebb and flow of politics, and questioned whether the argument for a 51st state would be a moot point if Republicans dominate the state Legislature in coming years.

“Take it easy,” he said. “This is one legislative session.”

Commissioners countered that this past legislative session was one of the worst they have seen, citing complaints from constituents who wished to testify before bills who were turned away and the rural renewable energy bill and proposed oil and gas regulations as times when commissioners and others imperative to those processes were not invited to speak at the state Capitol.

On a number of points, either side insisted they were in the right:

» On the power of commissioners to initiate the 51st state, Ruyle said that power is not expressly listed in state statute or the county’s home rule charter, which it must be, if commissioners take any action. He said the power to alter or change government lies solely with the citizens, and the initiative must be citizen-led. Kirkmeyer said a provision in the county’s charter allows commissioners to go through a process to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot, which gives them that power. She said commissioners are expressly charged with representing their constituents.

» On financing the new state, Mazurana said the new state would have to purchase UNC, three state parks and three prisons, and pay for a national guard, state infrastructure, state law enforcement and other services. Ruyle said about 83 percent of the new state’s assessed value would come out of Weld County, so the county would be subsidizing the other 10 counties that wish to form North Colorado. He said oil and gas may be helping Weld to thrive economically, but he said he doesn’t have faith in the long-term stability of the industry.

Conway said an I-News Network analysis of the financial aspect of the 51st state, which said the 11 northeastern counties receive more state funding for education and other services than they contribute, left out $115 million that Weld County gives to the state land board, meaning North Colorado actually gives more money to state coffers than it receives. He said the new state’s business philosophy would be similar to that of Delaware, another small state, which has the greatest number of Fortune 500 companies in the country.

» On water issues, Ruyle said a number of things would have to be renegotiated, such as the new state’s compact with Colorado on water use. In the interim, he said the new state could be left with no water rights. Ruyle said the new state would have to get permission from a water court for every acre-foot of water that flows outside of Colorado’s boundaries, at a cost of about $1.5 million per year. Ruyle and Conway differed on the results of a U.S. Supreme Court case that Conway cited as precedent for why Colorado could not completely impede the water received by North Colorado, and he said resolutions of support from Colorado counties on the Western slope would mean hassle-free headwaters for the new state.

» On the cost of tuition, Mazurana and Ruyle said students who were formerly a part of Colorado would have to pay out-of-state tuition to go to the likes of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. Conway countered that tuition in Wyoming is cheaper for Colorado students to pay out-of-state than to pay for an education at CU and CSU, thanks to the state Legislature’s lack of attention to funding for higher education. Ruyle said part of the problem is Colorado’s TABOR law, which doesn’t allow the legislators as much taxing authority.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative (Secession): Do Weld Commissioners have the authority to advocate for secession?

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Three Greeley attorneys are questioning whether Weld County commissioners have the authority to initiate the 51st state movement, calling on the Weld County Council to investigate the issue. 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.

Mueller said on Tuesday he had not seen the letter and wished to comment after he had seen it. Barker also declined to comment until he has discussed the letter with county council members.

Witwer said he agrees with the sentiment that started the 51st state proposal, which is that state legislators are not tending to the concerns of rural Coloradans.

“It isn’t that I reject the idea that there is some dissidence among the rural community,” he said.

But Witwer said he feels there are a number of logistical issues, namely water rights, that pose too many difficulties to allow the creation of a new state.

He said the letter came about after he and Ruyle struck up a conversation about the 51st state movement, and the three attorneys decided a letter to the county council, which oversees commissioners, was the best way to express concern.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative

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

From KUNC (Burt Hubbard) via The Greeley Tribune:

Colorado could stand to benefit financially and would see some improvement in the educational and economic standings of its remaining citizens if 10 northeastern counties should make good on their threat to secede and carve out a new state of North Colorado.

But what’s left of Colorado would also lose half of its lucrative oil wells, much of its prime farmland and some of the lowest crime areas in the state.

In addition to the 10 northeast Colorado counties that have a secession vote on November’s ballot, Moffat County in far northwest Colorado also will vote on whether to leave. But Moffat apparently wants to become Baja, Wyo.

I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed census, budget, crime and voter records to develop profiles of a new 51st state and a truncated Colorado. Suffice it to say, Colorado would no longer be considered a square state. And, of course, neither would Wyoming, with its new Moffat County panhandle.

Residents of the 11 counties will decide next month whether to start the fraught with difficulty political journey to leave Colorado and, in the case of the northeast counties, become a new state.

West Virginia was the last state to manage such a separation, in 1863, during the American Civil War, a move that was validated solely by a proclamation from President Lincoln, according to a state Web site.

It isn’t that easy today. One impediment: Both houses of the U.S. Congress would have to agree.

But proponents of secession said rural Coloradans are tired of having unpopular laws like stronger gun control and mandatory alternative energy standards forced on them by a Front Range dominated state Legislature.

“What has happened is the urbanization of America has disenfranchised the rural population,” said Jeffrey Hare, one of the organizers of the 51st State Initiative.

John Straayer, political science professor at Colorado State University, said bills from the last legislative session appear to have aroused animosity toward the legislature.

“In terms of the immediate trigger, guns and probably SB 252 (requiring use of alternative energy resources),” Straayer said. “They allege that it is more than that, not being treated properly by the legislature on a variety of issues for a long time.”

The eventual exodus, if the constitutional minefield could be navigated, would create a North Colorado of about 336,000 people, supplanting Wyoming as the least populous state in the U.S. It would leave Colorado with about 4.7 million residents, dropping it to the 23rd most populous state behind Alabama.

One of the key questions is the financial viability of a new state and its impact on the remainder of Colorado.

Financially, state government in Colorado would probably come out ahead if the 11 counties left, according to I-News estimates of how much revenue the state receives from the counties compared to expenditures there.

The counties generate between $360 million and $400 million yearly for the state in sales tax, state income tax and the state’s share of vehicle registration fees. That accounts for about three-fourths of the revenue Colorado receives from those counties each year from taxes and fees.

Extrapolating forward, that would be the equivalent of between $500 million and $560 million in revenue lost to the state from the 11 counties.

The state natural resources department estimates that oil and gas operations in those counties generate about $28 million in severance tax for state coffers each year.

Historically, oil and gas operators in Weld County have contributed little or, in some years, no state severance tax because they can take credits against the state severance tax for the property taxes they have paid in each county.

On the other side of the ledger, the state spends about $520 million in the 11 counties for K-12 school funding, incarcerating criminals from the counties, providing Medicaid, running the courts and the state’s share of running a university and three community colleges.

Those costs equal about 84 percent of the state’s overall general fund spending in the secession-voting counties. Extrapolating forward, that would come to total spending of about $620 million.

Bottom line: Colorado spends between about $60 million and $120 million or more a year in the 11 counties than the revenue it receives.

“There’s still a lot of (state) money coming back to these counties,” said Brian Lewandowski, economist with the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

By comparison, a similar analysis of Denver showed the county provides more tax and fee revenue to the state than it gets back in state funding for programs.

“You’ve got densely populated areas where there is a lot of wealth like Denver County and Douglas County,” said Lewandowski.

However, advocates of secession disagree with the I-News analysis and point to their own report that shows the counties break even with state government on spending and revenue.

The differences between the two analyses involved spending figures on K-12 education, revenue from the state income tax and severance taxes from oil and gas development.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office had no comment on what financial impact the secession would have on Colorado.

The I-News analysis did not examine how much money the counties currently receive directly from oil and gas operations. That’s money that would help run a new state.

More than half of Colorado’s oil and gas wells would reside in the new state, mostly in Weld.

“It’s pretty amazing the amount of dollars that it generates,” Lewandowsk said.

Weld County alone gets 55 percent of its property tax revenue from exploration. That has resulted in a current $100 million county contingency fund and no debt, said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, a leading proponent of secession who previously was chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.

During the recent flooding, the county was able to re-open its roads on its own.

“We’ve done this on our own,” Conway said. “We haven’t got help from the state.”

Not all politicians in Weld County want to secede.

Tom Norton, the mayor of Greeley and former Republican president of the state Senate, wrote in a column in The Tribune this summer that, while some state decisions have hurt rural Colorado, collaboration with the state, not secession, is the solution.

Demographically and politically, the two states — North Colorado and Colorado — would look quite different, the I-News analysis showed.

North Colorado would be predominately Republican with the fifth highest ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Colorado would outnumber Republicans for the first time in years.

“We would have a red state and a blue state,” Straayer said.

The would-be exiting counties are generally poorer and less educated than the rest of Colorado, according to Census data.

College education levels in North Colorado would be on par with those of Tennessee and Oklahoma, while college graduation rates would rise in Colorado to the second highest in the nation.

North Colorado would have among the lowest crime rates in the nation, ranking from fifth to 11th lowest among states for rape, robbery, burglary and car theft.

Colorado’s overall crime rates would go up, with motor vehicle theft rates almost three times higher than those of the 51st state.

North Colorado would have a higher percentage of families among its households, be younger on average and have a higher percent of Latinos. In fact, the new state would have the 6th highest percent of Hispanics in the U.S. But its black population would only be about 1 percent, the fifth lowest in the U.S.

And then, of course, there are the issues of marijuana and tornadoes. Legal pot would stop at old Colorado’s borders. About half of the state’s tornadoes touch down every year in the counties that would leave Colorado.

Even if approved by the counties involved, secession would appear to remain a long shot. It would require both Colorado and federal approval.

State ratification could come in a citizens’ initiative, such as the one that legalized recreational marijuana, in a ballot measure from the legislature, or in an act of the legislature, said Richard Collins, professor at the University of Colorado School of Law.

If that happened, it would then need approval by both houses of Congress.

In the meantime, the effort has drawn national publicity and its share of political quips.

Last month, when Hickenlooper was looking at flood damage in Julesburg which would be part of the new state, he assured officials there that all Colorado would be working together to overcome the disaster, before quipping, “then you all can get back to seceding.”

And Conway could not resist a dig at his two least favorite counties when talking about interest in secession being voiced elsewhere — including in some counties not involved in the current effort.

“When we’re done, we might be voting Denver and Boulder off the island.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative: ‘First and foremost, water rights are private property’ — Sean Conway

20130828_014411_51-state-map-with-cutline_500From The Greeley Gazette (Sean Conway):

Since discussion of creating a 51st State began, the most asked question I have had is how will the existing water rights our farmers and communities currently own be impacted?

First and foremost, water rights are private property. And like other private property – your home, car or land that you own – they cannot be taken away because you live in another state. Many water rights throughout Colorado are currently owned by individuals and entities who do not reside in the state of Colorado. Under the constitution, any private property that might be attempted to be seized would be called a “taking” and has been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982, in the landmark case of Nebraska v. Douglas, ruled no state may impose severe withdrawal, impede, divert or keep water from flowing into another state. This case, between the State of Colorado and Nebraska, is important, because this ruling would have precedence over the Colorado State Constitution and existing State law. This ruling protects all current water right holders.

Third, existing Water Compacts between the state of Colorado and the states of Nebraska and Kansas and other states must continue to be honored under federal law. This means that the water that flows currently from the Poudre River, South Platte and St. Vrain, along with other tributaries, must continue to flow as is, uninterrupted, toward those states to meet those federal compacts.

Fourth, the largest supplier of water to Weld, Morgan, Logan and Sedgwick Counties is the Big Thompson Water Project. This project, which is operated by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD), provides 220,000 acre feet annually to northeastern Colorado and is a federal project permitted by the Army Corp of Engineers. This permit would remain and continue to operate as usual. In addition, the only thing needed to protect the current boundaries of the district in the new state would be for those boundaries to be recognized in the new state’s constitution; something that would be almost certainly the first thing the new state constitution would include.

In discussions with several water attorneys and water experts about the new state, the one common phrase that was frequently stated to me about existing water rights and protection for water right holders was it is “very attainable.” Protection for the existing counties in the NCWCD and working out an agreement with Colorado and other current compact states are very “doable” and can be accomplished.

Finally, benefits overlooked by those looking at this issue in a parochial manner include the ability of a new state to enter into new compacts with other states and the ability of a new state to address the issues of needed water storage projects as well as the “buy and dry” issues that have seen tens of thousands of acres of productive farm land along the South Platte be transferred to metro Denver communities over the last three decades.

Another item which might escape naysayers is that a new state could include several western slope counties including Grand, Garfield, and Mesa. All head water counties for the Colorado River and the origin for much of the water we currently use in Northern Colorado. If these counties were to be part of the new state, our very valuable water rights would even be more protected.
To conclude, any new state would protect current water right holders. The actions needed to protect those water rights have been identified and certainly will be acted on by the new state.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

The secession winds are blowing across the US

2012 presidential election

From the Washington Post (Michael S. Rosenwald) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

West Virginia was the last state to break off from another. Now, 150 years later, a 49-year-old information technology consultant wants to apply the knife to Maryland’s five western counties. “The people are the sovereign,” says Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the fledgling Western Maryland Initiative, and the western sovereigns are fed up with Annapolis’s liberal majority, elected by the state’s other sovereigns.

“If you think you have a long list of grievances and it’s been going on for decades, and you can’t get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do,” says Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, a historic town of 1,400 people in Carroll County. “Otherwise you are trapped.”

Strzelczyk’s effort is one of several across the country to separate significant portions of states from, as he puts it, “the dominant ruling class.” Nearly a dozen northern Colorado counties are the furthest along, with nonbinding referendums set for November ballots. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is making a move to join with parts of Wisconsin. Northern California counties want to form a state called Jefferson.

Historians, political scientists and the leaders of the movements say secession efforts are being fueled by irreconcilable differences on issues such as gun control, taxes, energy policy, gay marriage and immigration — all subjects of recent legislative efforts at state and federal levels. The notion of compromise is a non-starter. With secessionists, the term “final straw” comes up a lot…

What’s different now is how the secession efforts illuminate a hard truth about the country: The rural-urban divide is increasingly a point of political conflict. The population boom in urban areas such as Baltimore and the Maryland suburbs near the District of Columbia, the Boulder-Denver areas in Colorado, and in Detroit have filled state legislatures with liberal policymakers pushing progressive agendas out of sync with rural residents, who feel increasingly isolated and marginalized.

In Maryland, the five western counties — Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll — represent just 11 percent of Maryland’s population, according to 2010 Census figures. They earn less than the people who live in more urban areas. They vote overwhelmingly for Republicans in a deeply Democratic state. Nearly 90 percent of the residents are white, compared with 51 percent elsewhere. About 60 percent were born in Maryland vs. 46 percent in other parts of the state…

Olden’s views are generally not the same as those that dominate Maryland’s urban centers. She is against gay marriage. She is against what she describes as “the horrible encroachment on Second Amendment rights.” She opposes abortion.

She is fed up with taxes, and was particularly galled by the “rain tax” — a stormwater management fee — approved during the last legislative session.

“Taxing the friggin’ rain?” she says. “The next thing they tax will be the air we breathe.”[…]

The best case scenario, experts say, is that the threat of walking out somehow gets people back to the table. (Comparisons to marriage counseling come to mind.) In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, D, has said that he doesn’t agree with the secession movement there, but his public comments on the issue suggest that the efforts are at least seen as real.

And in the end, just having their voices heard could, perhaps, soothe the situation for frustrated voters like Olden.

“Best case scenario: It works. Worst case: Nothing changes,” she says. “But if it doesn’t work, maybe they will finally see that the populous really is fed up.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

State Sen. Greg Brophy is pretty certain he wants to be governor of Colorado. But if some people in several of the counties in his expansive northeast Colorado Senate district have their way, the Wray Republican who’s seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper soon could live in another state. The state of North Colorado.

Brophy, who’s in town to attend this weekend’s Club 20 fall meeting, said that while he encouraged commissioners in numerous counties in his district to place a 51st state initiative on their November ballots, he isn’t necessarily in favor of the idea.

Officials in such northeast Colorado counties as Weld, Morgan and Logan have pushed the idea of creating their own state because they don’t feel the Legislature is listening to them.

But while Brophy said he understands that sentiment, the longtime state legislator said the issue puts him in an awkward position. “I encouraged my county commissioners to move forward with this to catch the governor’s attention and the state Legislature’s attention,” Brophy said. “I think that most of the counties will vote to secede, but it won’t pass through the state Legislature.”

If such a vote passed, though, Brophy said he would be obligated to introduce a measure into the Legislature if his constituents demanded it of him, even though he’s not sure how he would vote on it. That’s because Brophy is hoping to persuade GOP voters in that district and elsewhere in the state that he should be their pick for governor when Hickenlooper comes up for re-election next year, and not one of the five other Republicans in the race.

That group includes former congressman Tom Tancredo and current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who has created a gubernatorial campaign and is set to announce next week whether he plans officially to enter the race. “If we run a Republican with a fresh face — but with the experience to immediately be effective and have the ability to appeal to the center of Colorado as a guy who’s interested in the things that they’re interested in, and someone they could trust — then the Republicans could win this gubernatorial election probably easier than anyone thinks,” Brophy said. 
“I think I’m that guy.”

When it comes to creating a new state, though, even Brophy doesn’t believe the effort is all that serious, saying that most of his neighbors see it as a protest more than anything else.

But would Brophy carry a bill in the 2014 legislative session allowing some northern Colorado counties to leave the state? “I have been obviously wrestling with that one,” he said. “Let’s wait to see the outcome of the vote before I decide what it is I have to do.”

From WYOFile.com (Kerry Drake):

Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890, but it took Republicans in the northern half of the state 49 years to decide that things just weren’t working out for them. Like their counterparts today in northern Colorado, they were fed up with the Democrats in the rest of the state having control of state government. They particularly despised Union Pacific and union workers.

But Swickard and his associates didn’t bother with petitions to get the secession issue on the ballot. Instead, they simply did what made sense and started acting like a state. After getting some like-minded residents in neighboring South Dakota and Montana to join the effort, Absaroka began issuing its own license plates. Swickard and his fellow rebels hosted the king of Norway, billing it as an official state visit that proved Absaroka was being recognized by world leaders, even though the king had just happened to be passing through southeastern Montana.

The new state even had a contest to crown its first beauty queen, Miss Absaroka, who turned out to also be the last Miss Absaroka when the movement faded into obscurity later in 1939.

Most of what has been recorded about the history of Absaroka is from the Federal Writers’ Project, which helped document New Deal life throughout the country. The primary motivation behind the new state was apparently dissatisfaction with how little money from the federal government was being doled out to northern agricultural interests that had been plagued for years by drought and grasshopper infestations…

What caught my attention, though, was that because the secession movement’s leaders recognize that fact, they are already looking at alternate plans, and one of them is for the northeastern Colorado counties to be annexed by Wyoming. No one seems to know exactly how this might be accomplished, but several county commissioners said they are studying the issue to determine if it’s viable. Some suggested that it could require only a state constitutional amendment instead of state and federal legislative approval.

At this point we Wyomingites need to call a time-out and yell, “Wait a minute — don’t we have a say in this?” Just because they may want to become residents of Wyoming doesn’t mean we have to let them. Do they know nothing about our historic, incredibly strong independent spirit, or the fact that many of our residents see Colorado license plates and have nothing but disdain for the people driving through the state? They’re certainly welcome to stop, eat, gas up, look around for a while and even stay a night or two, but after they’ve bought their souvenirs and seen Yellowstone or the Frontier Days rodeo, it’s time for them to go home.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Weld County commissioners on Tuesday announced they will publish a series of editorials in support of the 51st state initiative, with plans to release the series before early voting begins and Weld County residents voice whether they wish to secede from Colorado. The string of articles will answer specific questions that commissioners said have been asked since they proposed the initiative, and will outline their frustrations with the Colorado Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper that led them to suggest secession. “For too long we have endured the arrogance and, yes, elitism of the state Legislature and the Governor’s Office. They mock us, they refuse to listen and they dismiss our concerns,” commissioners said in a news release. “As your Board of County Commissioners, we have been ridiculed for having the audacity to even suggest we pursue separating from the rest of Colorado. The fact is, the state many of us grew up in, the state we love, is slipping away into something many Colorado residents no longer recognize.”

Commissioners said they will address a number of topics over the next six weeks, including water, energy, education and agriculture, highlighting the tensions between rural and urban needs and responding to some questions about how those things would be handled in a new state. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said commissioners would write editorials about any other questions that constituents have about county government, and that many residents have asked him and his fellow commissioners if they were going to disseminate any information before the vote in November.

Commissioners said it doesn’t cost the county any money to place the initiative on the ballot because counties must pay for elections anyway. “We do not believe it is a waste of time to go out into the community and provide an opportunity for residents to be heard. We do not think it is a waste of energy to discuss your concerns and listen to your frustrations. We do not think it is a waste of money to exercise one of our fundamental rights under the constitution — the right to vote. We do not think it is audacious to stand up to a government that has failed to live up to our expectations,” commissioners said in the release.

Jennifer Finch, spokeswoman for the Board of Weld County Commissioners, said four county employees have spent time on the 51st state initiative: Finch, the county attorney and two people in the finance department. She said the county attorney has spent about four hours working on the ballot language and other issues, she has spent about 10 hours answering press calls, writing press releases and updating the commissioners’ web page and the finance employees have spent about 3.5 hours responding to the board’s questions.

Commissioners have also spent time answering questions, participating in interviews and providing information to the public, but that is what they are elected to do, Finch said — talk to their constituents and try to answer their questions. “I certainly don’t think it’s a waste of energy ever to discuss concerns, listen to concerns from constituents,” said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer.

She said the ultimate way for Weld residents to show their support or distaste for the measure is to vote this November, which is why commissioners chose to put it on the ballot.

Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher has said he expects the initiative to pass in Weld County by a 60-40 margin. Commissioners said out of more than 400 people who spoke at the four public meetings they held to hear residents’ opinions on the proposal, about 60 people, or 15 percent, spoke flatly against it.

More 51st state initiative coverage here.

51st State Initiative (secession): ‘I don’t have time for things I don’t think are serious or have any credibility’ — Terry Hart

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nick Bonham):

The push of some in Northern Colorado to secede from the state have invited southern communities to join, including Pueblo. Members of the 51st State Initiative met this week with commissioners from Huerfano and Las Animas counties.

The group asked for a meeting with Pueblo County commissioners as well, but they declined the invitation. “We’re not interested in meeting with them. Thanks, but no thanks,” Commission Chairman Terry Hart said. “I don’t see it as a serious political issue at all. I’m not in favor of it. We are tackling a number of incredibly serious issues right now. I don’t have time for things I don’t think are serious or have any credibility.”

Commissioners in Huerfano and Las Animas said they listened to the group’s presentation but are far from making a decision. “We understand the concerns Northern Colorado has about what’s been going on in the last several years. We’ve not taken any formal action. I don’t know if we want to at this point. We’ve just listened to the presentation and understand what’s it’s about,” said Max Vezzani, a Republican and Huerfano County commissioner.

Mack Louden, a Republican commissioner in Las Animas County, said the meeting was informative, but he still has questions. “Like with every new thing, you have to peel back the skin and see what’s underneath,” Louden said.

The drive behind the Northern Colorado secession is the turn in state politics and policy priorities that favors urban and metro Front Range communities, not rural Colorado. Actions and laws by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature on gun-control measures and renewable energy standard for rural electric cooperatives are issues in the movement.

Jeff Hare, a movement leader, said their idea was well-received in Huerfano and Las Animas counties. “The primary emphasis we’re talking about in the movement is restoring liberty; restoring it to the local level with emphasis on local control, and both of them liked that message and that idea. We have a lot of ideas and wanted to fill them in. Both (counties) were open to the idea and we’re interested in hearing from those folks in the community,” Hare said.

More coverage from Analisa Romano writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Lincoln County commissioners on Friday joined nine other northeastern Colorado counties in placing the 51st state initiative on this November’s election ballot.

Lincoln commissioners originally dropped the initiative earlier this year when those interested in the secession plan met in Akron , but Lincoln County Commission Chairman Ted Lyons said several dozen people representing all areas of the county turned out Friday to plead with commissioners to place the initiative on the ballot. “We don’t have a problem putting it on the ballot and giving the opportunity to vote for it one way or the other,” Lyons said.

He said more than anything it’s an opportunity to express discontent over what all of those involved in the 51st state initiative say is an urban attack on rural industries and lifestyles.

Lincoln Commissioner Greg King said he is not in favor of the 51st state, but he agrees rural needs and protests are falling on deaf ears at the state capitol. King said he prefers the Phillips County proposal, which aims to change representation in the state Legislature so that rural representatives can carry more weight with their votes.

Commissioner Doug Stone echoed some of Lyons’ comments. “I’m not very convinced we are ready to jump on the bandwagon right now, but we are putting it on the ballot to see how other people feel in Lincoln County.”

Elbert County commissioners on Wednesday joined the 51st state movement, meaning the effort is up to 11 counties total in Colorado that have placed the secession measure on their ballots, including Moffat County, which is in the northwestern corner of the state.

According to the Sky-Hi Daily News, Grand County commissioners will consider secession ballot language on Tuesday. Grand County sits on the western side of Boulder County.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said on Friday he has also heard rumblings that Mesa, Las Animas and Huerfano counties are considering a vote for 51st state ballot language next week.

“We’re going to end up with far more counties than we ever thought we would have,” Conway said.

Mesa County sits on Colorado’s western border and is not contiguous with Moffat County. Las Animas sits on Colorado’s southern border near the east corner, and Huerfano County borders it to the northwest.

Commissioners have until Sept. 6 to send ballot measures to their county clerks.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

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.

North Colorado secession: Rio Blanco County commissioners rightly question the disposition of water rights

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Rio Blanco County commissioners on Monday said they share the concerns of rural counties wanting to secede from Colorado, but they fear if they pursued the idea it could jeopardize water rights in the county. County Commissioner Shawn Bolton said it’s his understanding that if a county such as Rio Blanco left the state, it might no longer be a part of the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the door could be opened to local water rights being taken away. “That’s a breaking point for me. The water is too critical,” Bolton said.

Western Slope counties considering secession would be hit the hardest, he said. Most of the state’s surface water comes from the Western Slope.

Despite the water concern, the commissioners said during their meeting and in an interview that they agree in principle with the movement among northeast Colorado counties and now Moffat County to secede. Like them, the Rio Blanco commissioners take issue with the actions of the state legislature earlier this year. “It was a pretty blatant attack on rural communities,” Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said.

Particularly upsetting to Rio Blanco commissioners was the passage of a requirement that rural electric cooperatives get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources. That has implications for coal mining and coal-fired power generation in northwest Colorado and for electric customers’ bills. Commissioner Jon Hill said what made it worse is that legislators rejected the idea of considering sources such as hydropower as renewable.

Eskelson said while secession might not be the answer, he likes an idea that’s circulating that would require one of the chambers of the state legislature to have one representative from each Colorado county. “To me that would give rural Colorado more of a voice,” he said.

Bolton said Rio Blanco commissioners have been approached about the secession idea and have looked into it a bit but not gone further with it because the water issue raises such a red flag. He said the issue is far from clear, but he’s hearing water rights would remain in the state of Colorado and those in a 51st state couldn’t file for a historical use and keep them. “It’s a huge bunch of questions,” he said.

The Colorado River Compact addresses allocation of river basin water between seven states within the basin. If a county seceded, it’s possible that it “wouldn’t even be at the table at that point,” Bolton said.

Hill said that might be avoided if a county joined another state such as Utah or Wyoming that also has signed the compact.

From The Denver Post (Matthew Patane):

Not far over the county line, the first of thousands of natural gas wellheads and crude oil collection tanks that define Weld County and helped inflame the secession movement come into focus. County commissioners riled by laws to more tightly regulate the industry that pays many of the bills, the passage of stricter gun laws and worry over the quality of rural roads, floated the notion of secession at the end of the legislative session. They cited a disconnect between the wants and needs of rural areas of Colorado and the governing being done in Denver, and recruited other northeastern counties to the idea that something had to change. “The level of frustration and the level of disconnect that people feel is pretty high,” said Chad Auer, mayor of Firestone, in southwest Weld County. “I think there’s something to be said for why this process is taking place in the first place.”

The vast Pawnee National Grassland consumes much of Weld’s northern reaches, along the Wyoming border, which keeps most of the county’s population in the southwestern half. Some of Weld’s towns — such as Roggen, Keenesburg, Ault — might be missed on a high-speed highway trip. Others closer to Interstate 25 — Firestone, Windsor, Severance — show signs of growth as new neighborhoods spring up around historic old towns within commuting distance of good jobs.

But the county remains mostly rural, with Greeley, the county seat, an urban island in the sea of farmland.

Although Weld is leading the movement for a 51st state, support for secession has not permeated the entire county.

Many people said they unfamiliar with the 51st state movement or knew little about it. Others said attempts to secede from the state are the wrong move, even if there is a rural-urban divide.

Greg Polese, 27, and Sam Harvey, 26, said they don’t support creating a 51st state and don’t think the urban-rural conflict is as divisive as others have suggested. Polese and Harvey work in Fort Collins, but moved to Severance for cheaper housing. On an issue they care about — the condition of roads — they had few complaints. Some of Weld’s roads could use maintenance, Harvey said, but every county has its share of poor roads that are fixed when they need to be.

After agriculture, energy dominates Weld’s economy. Rigs and wellheads dot the countryside, often placed next to or in farmland and residential neighborhoods. Ongoing attempts to more strictly regulate oil and gas, especially chafes county politicians. Of the more than 51,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado, more than 20,000 are in Weld County, making it the top oil and gas county in the state. So far this year, 952 oil and gas wells were drilled in Colorado, 607 of which were in Weld, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“All your oil, gas and agriculture is up here. But when it comes time to vote, we don’t have representation down there.” said Gerald Haffner, 53, while attending the South East Weld County Fair & Rodeo in Keenesburg. Haffner, a Weld County telephone technician, said he would not vote for secession. Instead, he said, the counties should focus on gaining more representation at the state house. “Making us a new state, to me, is not the right answer,” Haffner said. “Fixing what we have is.”

By the numbers

Weld County

2012 population 263,691

2010 population 252,825

Percent change 4.3 percent

Median household income $55.825

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 13.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 66,594

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 3.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 3,987.24

People per square mile 63.4

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

For Erie, the burgeoning secession movement in northeast Colorado is doubly troublesome as half the town lies in Boulder County while the other half is in Weld County, which last week referred to the November ballot a measure that will ask voters whether they want to break away from Colorado and form a new state, dubbed North Colorado…

Erie Trustee Jonathan Hager doesn’t think the 51st state initiative will get very far — it would need the approval of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to become a reality — but he said it does raise some interesting issues about the town he represents and its peculiar geography. If Erie broke into two, Hager said, the Boulder County side would be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of municipal services and civic identity.

“Everything we own as a municipality is on the Weld County side,” he said. “If the state was formed and Erie was forced to split up, maybe those of us on the Boulder County side would become part of Lafayette, or Longmont or Broomfield.”[…]

Aside from the November vote, he said, both the U.S. Congress and the Colorado Legislature would have to agree on the formation of North Colorado — a very unlikely scenario given the fact that it would be a heavily Republican state. “Colorado would have to concur with the loss of territory and Congress would have to agree,” he said. “You’re not going to get broad agreement to create a new state that is dripping red.”[…]

Feelings on a possible secession right down the middle of Erie ranged from intrigue to good riddance during a quick survey of townspeople this week. Theresa Williams, a Democrat who has lived on the Boulder County side of town for nearly 15 years in the Country Meadows neighborhood, said the whole notion of secession is “ridiculous.” “I think they’re throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t believe in sensible gun laws,” she said of those pushing for the measure. “I don’t think it will happen but if it does — bye.”

From The Denver Post (Kiki Turner):

Nestled between a Colorado Rockies poster and a calendar of pinup girls was a small green bumper sticker that read “No Farms, No Food.” The sticker stood out among hundreds of posters and pictures plastered on the walls of R.D’s Bar in Sedgwick, a town of roughly 180 people in extreme northeast Colorado. Three-year-old Jennifer Toyne swung on a bar stool while her father sipped a beer during a break from his 12-hour workday. “How many baby moo cows do you have?” Jason Toyne asked as his daughter climbed into his lap. Jennifer held up three small fingers, nails painted with sparkly polish.

Like many people who live in Sedgwick County, Toyne has farmed all his life. And like many farmers, he worries the disconnect between government in Denver and the work being done in rural Colorado will be disastrous for his corn, sugar beet and soy bean operation. He’s concerned, especially, about the thirsty Front Range cities buying up water rights he would otherwise lease to irrigate his crops. “If farms don’t get water, there won’t be food,” his friend Kyle McConnell said. “But I guess people like having green lawns.”

McConnell, who also farms in northeastern Colorado, is all for the proposed creation of a 51st state, but said “it’s not going to happen.” He’d settle for what he described as more equitable representation in the statehouse. “That would be a step.” McConnell said votes in the statehouse this session worked against rural areas financially and fundamentally. “They need to quit making laws for us when they don’t have a damn clue how we live,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to farm. Our costs are astronomical.” McConnell estimates to earn $20,000, it takes an investment, on the high end, of $10 million in land and equipment .

R.D’s co-owner Gena Kinoshita said in-town business costs also are rising, including the cost of water, which recently quadrupled. “We barely make it with what we have now,” said Kinoshita, whose bar is one of five businesses still open along Main Street, a dirt road marked with wooden street signs. Small farming towns like Sedgwick have languished over the years, she said.

Bob Blach runs a New York Life office in Sterling, the Logan County seat, where people who don’t work in agriculture can find jobs at a state prison, a college or other government agencies. He said agricultural areas are withering, despite their importance. “We’re one of the largest industries in Colorado, and we don’t get any attention,” Blach said.

A lack of representation, along with social issues like the approval of new gun laws and civil unions, helped fueled secession talk. But many said they the real trouble is rooted in differences between country and city living. “The mud, manure, the flies, in a weird way, we like it,” said 18-year-old Drew Carlson. “It’s just a part of home.” Home for the Carlsons is a 120-acre farm in Atwood, just south of Sterling. Atwood has no skyscrapers, only rounded tops of corn silos and metal roofs of grain elevators break the skyline.

While the town is troubled by an occasional traffic jam, the clogs are caused by swine, not cars. “We take our pigs for a walk every morning,” said Drew, as she and her 6-year-old brother Beau ushered a herd of 250-pound hogs down a dirt road. The hogs were five times the size of Beau, but using only a flimsy pig whip, the boy directed the animals back to the family’s barn, where his 12-year-old brother, Cooper, concocted breakfast for dozens of animals. The Carlson children fed, watered, and walked their animals all before the sun had risen above the corn tassels in their farm fields.

At the Logan County fair, Jay Hill was watching two of his sons show their steers. Most days, he works with beef cattle ranchers, selling semen to help improve their herds. He said the early-to-rise tendencies common among country kids, may be foreign to city folk. Hill said there has always been a chasm between urban and rural worlds, but despite the differences, each lifestyle depends on the other. “Urban doesn’t know rural, and rural doesn’t know urban. Nobody wants to look beyond their own front gate,” Hill said. “But it takes both. The country lifestyle wouldn’t succeed without the urban — who would we feed?”

Kiki Turner: 303-954-1221, kturner@denverpost.com

By the numbers

Logan County

2012 population 22,631

2010 population 22,709

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median houshold income $42,324

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 15 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 5,286

Non-farm percentage change from 2010 -1.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,838. 55

People per square mile 12.4

Sedgwick County

2012 population 2,383

2010 population 2,379

Percent change 0.2 percent

Median household income $36,797

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 371

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -9.55 percent

Land area, in square miles 548.04

People per square mile 4.3

From The Denver Post (Matt Phillips):

Rolling east on Colorado 86, housing tracts give way to cattle and horse ranches outside Castle Rock. A few miles farther, crossing into Elbert County, the landscape steadily becomes more rural. In Elizabeth, Elbert County’s largest town, there isn’t much talk about the 51st state initiative — if any talk at all.

Larisa Coonce, 25, who works at a liquor store in town, said she hadn’t heard about the initiative. Coonce, though, said there is a disconnect between Elizabeth residents and urbanites in Denver. She said Elbert County residents take pride in being self-sufficient. “If we can’t make it, we don’t need it,” said Coonce, who also runs a baking business on the side called Reesa’s Pieces . The issue people are most vocal about, she said, is gun control.

Kiowa , the county seat, is 7miles east. It’s a quintessential, small American town. At Patty Ann’s Cafe smiling waitresses greet customers and everybody gets a one-of-a-kind coffee mug. Conversations about children, grandchildren and good food float across the cafe.

An August county commissioners’ meeting in Kiowa began with a prayer — “my heart is heavy with the many, many things that are wrong in our nation,” said a local pastor — and a hearty pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Commissioner Robert Rowland said that the 51st state initiative could be on Elbert County’s November ballot. But commissioners haven’t made any decisions about that or any other ballot initiatives. The bigger issue is Elbert County’s lack of cash. “At some point we will have to increase revenues in this county,” Rowland said.

The oil and gas industry is poised to enter the region, according to residents, but there is dissension about how much — or how little — the industry should be regulated.

Rick Blotter, a retired teacher who owns 60 acres in the county, said giving drillers unregulated access would have a negative environmental and economic impact. The money that comes in, he said, would be concentrated in the hands of a few landowners and wouldn’t benefit the entire county. “What does that do to the cost of living in that community — it goes up,” he said.

Past Kiowa, the highway unravels across the rest of the county — a picturesque landscape of rolling plains dotted with livestock. The two-lane highway is pockmarked and weather-worn in places.

Neighboring Lincoln County , too, is absent overt support for the 51st state initiative. In Limon , the county’s most populous town, people had only heard about it through news outlets.

Brittin Keenan, 37, is a librarian at the Limon Memorial Library. She’s lived in the region for nine years and thinks Lincoln County, a large ranching region, is very conservative. But that doesn’t mean people want to form another state. “I haven’t heard of it (the initiative) here,” Keenan said. “The only reason I heard is I saw it on the news.”

Keenan said gun rights are an issue for many people in the county. She doesn’t vote along party lines herself, but she implied that many people do and it’s partially because of that issue.

Lincoln County administrator Roxie Devers said there are no plans for the county to throw its lot in with the 51st state initiative. “The commissioners have only had a handful of citizens approach them,” Devers said. “They’ll wait to see if it (the initiative) gets on the state ballot and people can vote on it that way.”

By the numbers

Lincoln County

2012 population 5,453

2010 population 5,467

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median household income $43,375

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 11.1 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,229

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,577.63

People per square mile 2.1

Elbert County

2012 population 23,383

2010 population 23,086

Percent change 1.3

Median household income $79,367

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 5.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,933

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -3.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,850.85

People per square mile 12.5

From The Denver Post (Ally Marotti):

Children often lose track of summer days biking and playing in Cheyenne Wells, but parents aren’t worried if they’re not home by dusk. There are no “Children At Play” signs, no speed bumps in the streets — Cheyenne Wells just doesn’t need them. “Kids go out to play ’til the lights go dark,” said Sherrie Nestor, as she simultaneously watched over her three grandsons and volunteered at the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Museum.

She pointed out people in historical pictures on the walls who still live in town, and consulted a 1972 phone book — change doesn’t come often in Cheyenne Wells.

No matter where you are in the largest town in Cheyenne County, you can see the other end of town. Strangers only come through in big rigs to pick up oil or crops and are soon on their way, leaving down one of the roads that quickly turns to a dirt ribbon winding across the vast prairie. “Out here, it’s a different economy. Whatever happens up there (in Denver) doesn’t happen here,” said Marilynn Jacobson, a reporter at the town’s weekly paper, The Range Ledger. “We try to remain independent. We like our freedom and we like open spaces. And we like to feel safe.”

The nearest grocery store is almost an hour away. The closest mall is in Colorado Springs.

“The only thing you got out here besides good people is tumbleweeds, fence posts and barbed wire,” said local contractor Danny Donnelly.

Most of the town’s 800 residents were born there, and if they do leave, they’re not gone long.

The town shut down one rainy day in August for a funeral. Even the afternoon coffee crowd at Nan’s Convenience and Liquor Store — a mix ranging from retired farmers to oil drillers — was sparse that day.

People know their neighbors in Cheyenne Wells. They know the town’s history, and it’s riddled with hard work.

Most are up before the sun to work in the oil fields or farm. Many go straight to the local bar after work, oil smeared from head to toe as a trophy of the day’s accomplishments.

But some feel Cheyenne County is forgotten among state lawmakers. “Rural life is not understood,” said Gerald Keefe, the city and county judge, former superintendent of the Kit Carson School District and a hospital board member.

New laws require the town’s 10-bed Keefe Memorial Hospital — named for Gerald’s father — to hire more nurses, which would exceed budget. Keefe is fighting to keep the hospital operational, as the next nearest facility is in Burlington, about 40 miles north. “It’s like we’re in an episode of ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ ” Keefe said, suggesting people in the city forget the small town exists. “We are really here.”

But 45 miles to the north, Interstate 70 slices through Kit Carson County, bringing visitors and business at a level unheard of in Cheyenne Wells.

Burlington, the county seat, has fast food, hotel chains and roadside attractions, including a 108-year-old carousel. The Colorado Junior Rodeo finals drew 120 contestants and their families to town Aug. 9-11, said CJR president Cade Spitz. But at its core, Burlington is a rural farming community. “I’ve lived here all my life,” said Darwin “Dog” Stolz as he repaired windows one afternoon. A coach nicknamed him Dog, and now that’s how he’s listed in the phone book.

Stolz said he loves small-town life, but most young people leave Burlington unless they help on family farms. “I told my kids, ‘I’m not a farmer, you’ve got to get out of here,’ ” said Stolz, whose two children live in Washington, D.C . “They’ll never come back. They got the night life there.”

Ally Marotti: 303-954-1223, amarotti@denverpost.com or twitter.com/AllyMarotti

By the numbers

Kit Carson County

2012 population 8,094

2010 population 8,270

Percent change -2.1 percent

Median household income $43,194

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 11.3 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,860

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -6.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,160.82

People per square mile 3.8

Cheyenne County

2012 population 1,874

2010 population 1,836

Percent change 2.1 percent

Median household income $47,188

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 929

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 9.7 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,778.28

People per square mile 1

From The Denver Post (Adrian D. Garcia):

Political thoughts are usually far from the minds of residents of Morgan and Washington counties. With children to rear and crops to raise, fighting to have rural needs better met in the statehouse is not typically at the top of most people’s to-do list.

Local elected officials will make the right decisions for the counties’ larger picture needs, said Dave Baugh as he sat eating a cheeseburger and fries at a tavern in Weldona, northwest of the Morgan County seat, Fort Morgan.

Leaders are considering changes to the way the region is represented in the state Senate and House, as well as, discussing secession from Colorado. “(Seceding) seems like a good idea but I have enough stuff to worry about,” Baugh said as farmers nearby joked and discussed when they were next going to cut and bail hay. The tavern had two beers on tap, Coors Light and Bud Light. “It hasn’t hit close enough to home yet.”

Baugh lives in Morgan County and drives to work at the oil and gas company DCP Midstream in Weld County. He said the bumps on Interstates 70 and 76 and Democratic led initiatives like SB 252 — that doubles the amount of renewable energy rural electric cooperatives must use to 20 percent by 2020 — haven’t yet dramatically altered his day-to-day life.

But the mood of Washington County ranchers Don and Linda Cullip got hot as they ate strawberry ice cream at Cornerstone Coffee in Akron. They said they are passionate about seceding from the state. Linda said that’s partly because legislators in Denver don’t take into account what consequences new regulations and laws have on a farm. “They don’t really care what we need out here,” she said. “The people in the city don’t have a clue what life is like in rural areas. They just think that their hamburgers just show up at McDonald’s and they don’t realize it comes from cattle like ours.”

Even though modern farming equipment is highly sophisticated and costs thousands of dollars, Don said, residents in metro areas view rural residents as dumb and behind the times.

Fort Morgan’s Lee Mills, 82, said there are few options for young adults in the area, even with businesses like the Great Western sugar factory, Cargill Meat Solutions and Leprino Foods Company.

About 665 20-somethings left Morgan County between 2000 and 2010. In the same period, nearly 245 people in their 20s left Washington County, according to data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

It’s hard to make a living wage and some have to “rely on food stamps especially if they have a family,” said Mills, who retired from concrete work in Denver and moved to Morgan County more than a decade ago.

Life is easier for the older people, he said. “You get your social security and pension check and live laid back.”

Adrian D. Garcia: 303-954-1729, agarcia@denverpost.com, Twitter/ adriandgarcia

By the numbers

Washington County

2012 population 4,766

2010 population 4,814

Percent change -1.0 percent

Median household income $43,945

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 2.19 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 488

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 2.5 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,518.03

People per square mile 1.9

Morgan County

2012 population 28,472

2010 population 28,159

Percent change 1.1 percent

Median household income $42,792

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 8,815

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 4.2 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,280.43

People per square mile 22

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

If it’s attention the northeastern Colorado counties threatening secession wanted, they’ve got it. Weld County officials irked by action during the Democrat-dominated legislative session recruited 10 other counties to the idea of leaving the state to form their own.

They said their interests were ill-represented by metro-centric lawmakers who ignored rural sensibilities when they voted for tighter gun laws and threatened the livelihood of farmers and ranchers with new renewable energy standards that may hike the cost of doing business. “They feel they have been ignored. That’s what this is all about,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. His district includes all or part of all 11 dissident counties. “People need to be heard.”

But as elected officials publicly debated formation of North Colorado, circulated petitions and surveyed citizens deciding to put question the fall ballot in eight counties so far, the message was received — loud and clear — in Hickenlooper’s office. “If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it’s destructive,” Hickenlooper said. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”

However, he said, the hurt being felt in rural counties is not due to background checks on gun sales, civil unions for gays or expanded renewable energy. “In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small,” Hickenlooper said. “The same is true of our efforts to protect water for agricultural issues, expand broadband into rural areas and promote tourism and economic diversity across the state.”

The notion of breaking up with Colorado has evolved into an almost heroic calling for some supporters. “I would argue that this is not radical, but is something that our framers envisioned,” said Jeffrey Hare, a Weld County man who founded the 51st State Initiative Facebook page, which has attracted more than 11,000 likes.

Critics, however, say the North Colorado proposal is short on detail and long on petulance. “I think some people in northern Colorado are frustrated that the party they are usually aligned with (the GOP) does not dominate the state legislature nor the governor’s office,” said long-time Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer. “It’s mostly about blowing off steam. A lot of sound and fury but not much else.”

If the secession effort is successful, there will be a lot of expensive infrastructure to purchase from the state of Colorado, including a prison system and maybe even a state university — which presumably would be the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “There would be a whole host of things they would have to work through,” said said University of Colorado political science professor Kenneth Bickers.

But if the counties do depart, North Colorado would pack a mighty economic punch. The secessionist counties contain much of Colorado’s breadbasket and a good chunk of its oil and gas production. Four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state, at least in terms of dollar value, could be within North Colorado’s borders. Weld County alone is the top producer of grain, beef cattle, dairy product and sugar beets.

Weld is also home to more than 20,000 active oil and gas wells, the largest number of active wells of any county in the U.S. and producing 81 percent of the state’s oil and and 18 percent of Colorado’s natural gas. All that production helped contribute $1.6 billion to the state and local governments, school districts and special districts in 2012.

The new state could also become a philosophical nirvana to those now chafing within the confines of the Centennial State. They could frame new laws and policies that discourage gun control and abortion while encouraging more tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

The new state of North Colorado could even raise the speed limit if it wanted, Bickers said.

“There are a whole lot of things and policies that could be adopted that would likely be more in tune with the preferences of people living in those counties,” he said.

But the 51st state would lack political might as the least-populous state in the Union, with about 60 percent the population of Wyoming. And secession might not work out to break-even for the rogue counties — including Moffat, which this week said it will put a secession question on the ballot with the intention of joining Wyoming.

Together, the counties collected $106 million in state and other government funding in 2009, the last time the figures were tabulated by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Those same counties — whose main commerce depends on an adequate and certain supply of water — would probably find access to that resource even more difficult to come by, said state Rep. Dave Young, a Democrat, whose district includes Greeley. “We depend on water that comes from other places other than Weld County,” Young said. “How much is it going to cost us to get that water?”

From The Denver Post (Dana Coffield):

Can it happen? Voters in secessionist counties may signal they wish to proceed with creating a 51st state, but completing the process will take some serious political might and will. The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to admit new states to the union. However, new states may be formed from within the boundaries of another state or by joining two or more states or parts of states only with consent of the concerned state legislatures and Congress.

Prof. Richard Collins, a Constitutional law expert at the University of Colorado law school, said the last time a state consented to the loss of territory was when Maine split from Massachusetts in 1820 and slavery was at the heart of the conflict.

Colorado’s consent would come by a bill voted on by both chambers of the legislature, or by citizen initiative — akin to what happened in 1998 when voters OK’d a constitutional amendment to allow the city of Broomfield to secede from Adams, Weld, Boulder and Jefferson counties to form its own county. “You can speculate on the state politics that would generate, but any way you slice it, it is hard to imagine state consent,” Collins said.

Getting the blessing of the U.S. Congress presents its own political hurdles, chiefly changing the balance of party power with the addition of the two senators guaranteed all states by the U.S. Constitution. U.S. representatives are allocated based on population. Wyoming, with about 576,000 residents, has one. The 11 proposed North Colorado counties have about 375,000. “The problem in Congress would be opposition to giving a new state two senators certain to be conservative Republicans,” Collins said. “As we know, it is very easy to stop Congress from acting.”

From The Denver Post (Katharina Buchholz):

Greg Larson wants Gov. John Hickenlooper to think of him when he eats his popcorn. “We should get him some,” Larson said, “so he can think of us out here.” Larson, 40, farms 1,300 irrigated acres of feed corn, wheat, millet and popcorn in Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties in Colorado’s northeastern corner. He doesn’t like that the rural renewable-energy bill, which mandates rural energy cooperatives to double their renewable energy use, will drive up his operating cost. But that doesn’t mean Larson supports secession from Colorado under the 51st state initiative, like some of his commissioners, who cite a recent tightening of energy and gun laws as reasons to attempt the split from Colorado. Surrounded by high corn stalks, Larson was checking one of his eight wells, where more than 800 gallons of water churn from the ground every minute. During the 4-month growing season, the wells run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While there is no official estimate, David Churchwell of the Highline Electric Association, where Larson buys his power, said the increase could be significant. “It could cause someone to go out of business,” Churchwell said.

But Larson, whose home is in Logan County, is also the vice-president of the local Republican River Conservation District and knows that lawsuits about excessive water use have been brought against the state by Kansas in the past. “All the money, all the legal fees, the time engineers put into it, we would lose all that,” Larson said. “They would come after our little state.”

Steve Deaver, 52, supports secession. Deaver is the locksmith and gun dealer of Holyoke in Phillips County, a town with a population of about 2,300 located 13 miles from the Nebraska border. “The gun laws are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Deaver said while his four grandsons fooled around on his front porch. Deaver said the laws were unnecessary, but also acknowledged that sleepy Holyoke wasn’t a place that had to deal with problems of gun violence. “The lifestyle out on the plains is so different in all capacities from the metropolitan lifestyle,” he said.

Yuma County Commissioner Trent Bushner said his county put secession on the ballot after collecting 706 signatures, equalling about 15 percent of the county’s voters in the 2012 election. “We wanted to hear from our constituents to see if it stuck, and it did,” Bushner said.

In neighboring Phillips County, frustrations were obvious during a recent county commissioners meeting. “I’m just ashamed to say that I live in this state,” commissioner Joe Kinnie said.

County Administrator Randy Schafer would like to see every representative in the state House assigned to a Colorado county. The so-called Phillips Plan is similar to the system of representation in the U.S. Senate. “When we lost population, we also lost representation,” he said.

In Phillips County, efficient agriculture practices produce high yields with few farmers.

Larson said he has tripled his acreage in the last 16 years by renting land from neighbors who moved away. He said he will continue his farm — secession or not. “Farmers,” Larson said, “have learned how to deal with what’s put in front of them.”

By the numbers

Phillips County

2012 population 4,367

2010 population 4,442

Percent change -1.7 percent

Median household income $44.717

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 966

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 687.93

People per square mile 6.5

Yuma County

2012 population 10,119

2010 population 10,043

Percent change 0.8 percent

Median household income $44,991

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 2,556

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -2.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,364.41

People per square mile 4.2

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

North Colorado secession: Yuma County voters get a chance to voice their opinion

coloradocountymap.jpg

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Kit Carson County has joined the 51st state initiative, becoming the eighth county to place the measure on the ballot this fall.

Meanwhile, Moffat County commissioners have jumped on the 51st state bandwagon, pledging to vote on a ballot measure on Tuesday. Moffat County covers the northwestern corner of Colorado, so Commissioner John Kinkaid said his county could either try to join with Wyoming or work with neighboring counties to connect with northeastern Colorado’s initiative. Kinkaid said he brought up the issue at a commissioners’ meeting because a number of his constituents requested it. “Obviously, it’s a hard, long road to get statehood for another state in the union, I get that,” Kinkaid said. “But … we feel disenfranchised over here in Moffat County.”

Kinkaid cited many of the same pieces of legislation that Weld County and other northeastern county commissioners say brought them to the point of a secession movement. He cited a rural energy law passed this year, a mandate to switch fuel from coal to natural gas in 2010, new gun regulations and what he said were overbearing regulations on the county’s power plant, which is the largest in the state, as reasons for joining the movement.

Kinkaid said he plans to reach out to neighboring counties and to commissioners initially involved in the movement. “We are not leaving Colorado — it’s the Denver area, the urban legislators, who have left Colorado,” he said.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he wouldn’t be surprised if Moffat County’s actions open up even more movement in western Colorado. “The disappointment and frustration with the Colorado General Assembly is not confined to just northeastern Colorado,” he said.

Only Morgan County commissioners have not voted to officially join the 51st state initiative. They say they are waiting for a citizen-led petition — which may never come — before voting to place the initiative on the ballot.

The deadline to submit ballot language for this fall’s election is Sept. 6.

More North Colorado secession coverage here.

North Colorado secession: ‘It’d be better if the Front Range just left Colorado’ — Tom Mathers

moffatcounty.jpg

From the Craig Daily Press (Erin Fenner):

“It’d be better if the Front Range just left Colorado,” Mathers said. “If we had a governor that was actually a governor and not a mayor of Denver — of the Front Range — then this secession wouldn’t be happening.”

Frank Moe, who is running for Mathers’ soon-to-be-open seat, said Moffat County has been neglected by the Democrat-dominated state Legislature. “The state left us,” he said, “not the other way around.”

The 51st State Initiative made headlines when five counties in eastern Colorado approved putting the question of secession to voters.

“The goal is to form a 51st state,” said Jeffrey Hare, executive director of the 51st State Initiative. “The net result would be a state that better reflects the values of those outside the Denver/Boulder corridor.”

Kinkaid said Moffat County, under the referendum, would either join up with the 51st state or maybe become part of Wyoming. “It’s not just making a statement but initiating a process to change the way decisions are being made that affect the entire state,” he said.

Another solution, he said, would be to give each county its own state senator. “It would be a stretch to give each county a senator, but it would be a compromise,” Kinkaid said.

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

The movement for forming a 51st state has been moving forward with seven counties so far in eastern Colorado having decided to put the question in front of local voters.

The Denver Post reports that both Logan and Washington county commissioners voted Tuesday to put a secession question on the November ballot. They join Phillips, Cheyenne, Yuma and Sedgwick which have already passed ballot issues.

Meantime, Weld County Commissioners voted Monday to put the question on the ballot.

Kit Carson County Commissioners are expected to vote on the topic Wednesday.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Two more counties are officially on board for the 51st state ballot initiative, meaning just two of the nine counties involved have yet to vote. Logan and Washington county commissioners on Monday approved ballot language asking their residents if they would like to secede from Colorado and become their own state.

Kit Carson County commissioners will vote on the measure on Wednesday, and Morgan County commissioners have said they will only place it on the ballot if 15 percent of their voters petition for it.

Weld County commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to put the question on their ballot. “Now it’s in the people’s hands,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway at their meeting.

Phillips County followed suit on Monday afternoon and voted in favor of the measure. Sedgwick, Cheyenne and Yuma counties voted to place the language on their ballots last week.

Leaders in the nine northeastern counties say they feel disconnected and disenfranchised at the state Capitol. They say their rural way of life has been under attack and their voices have not been heard in the past several legislative sessions.

If voters approve the initiative, it would go before the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Finishing their comments with a quote by Gandhi and one of Barack Obama’s campaign slogans, Weld County commissioners on Monday voted to place the 51st state initiative on the November ballot. “Si se puede — yes, we can,” said Weld County Commission Chairman Bill Garcia just before commissioners unanimously approved ballot language asking Weld residents if they would like to secede from Colorado and form a new state. Obama used that slogan in his presidential campaign.

“Now it’s in the people’s hands,” Weld County commissioner Sean Conway said after reading a quote he found by spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi over the weekend — “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

Echoing sentiments of a rural-urban disconnect at the state Capitol, commissioners said they received overwhelming support to secede from Colorado at public hearings in Fort Lupton, Longmont, Evans and Ault. “Frankly, I don’t think they share our vision, and they don’t share our morals,” Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said of Denver-metro area lawmakers. Commissioners said legislation passed this year is harmful to the county’s agriculture and oil and gas industries.

Weld was the fourth county involved in the 51st state initiative to vote in favor of the ballot language, followed closely by Phillips County commissioners, who voted in favor of the measure on Monday afternoon.

Sedgwick, Cheyenne and Yuma counties have already placed the language on their ballots. Washington and Logan county commissioners are slated to vote on Tuesday and Kit Carson commissioners will vote on Wednesday. Morgan County commissioners are waiting for a citizen petition that includes 15 percent of their registered voters before moving forward with the initiative.

Rademacher said he expects the initiative to pass 60 to 40 percent when it’s put to Weld County voters this fall.

Weld County Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno said adding the measure to the ballot won’t be an additional cost to the county because the county foots the bill for elections anyway. He said the cost depends on how many municipalities are holding local elections that year, in which case the county is reimbursed by entities coordinating with Weld.

Commissioners voted on the ballot language in a resolution, but opened the floor for public comment anyway.

“Some folks think that this is a fairly radical idea, they call secession very radical,” said Jeffrey Hare, who founded the 51st State Initiative Facebook page, which has garnered more than 11,000 likes. “I would argue that this is not radical, but it is something that our framers envisioned.”

Only two other people spoke before commissioners voted, one in favor and one against the initiative. “I hope that there will be a resounding defeat of this absurd proposal,” said Vicki J. Anderson, a Greeley resident.

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said the board has been personally attacked since they introduced the initiative — they were called petulant, stupid crybabies, emotional and immature — and spoke directly in response to an editorial that ran in the Tribune, saying she disagrees that the initiative that is a waste of time and energy.

Kirkmeyer said she feels she and the board made an effort to establish a dialogue with a number of state lawmakers and officials about the issues facing Weld and other rural counties, but their efforts were “to no avail.”

Conway likened the secession proposal to an initiative in the mid-1970s to turn Weld into a home rule county, which gives commissioners local control over unincorporated areas instead of the state. He said residents called that initiative crazy, and it took three tries before it got on the ballot.

As a home rule county now, Weld has no short- or long-term debt, no sales tax and a $100 million reserve fund, Conway said.

“What did we learn from that example?” he said.

From The Denver Post (By Monte Whaley/Katharina Buchholz) Sterling Journal-Advocate:

The Logan County Commissioners voted today to join a growing list of northeastern Colorado counties getting serious about secession.

Prior to their vote, the commissioners of Weld and Phillips counties voted Monday to place a question on the fall ballot asking voters if they wish to divorce Colorado and create a 51st state.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway predicted secession will pass in his county on a 60-40 vote. He quoted Indian spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, who helped overthrow British rule, and warned others not to be dismissive of the movement. “‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,'” Conway said.

Commissioners in 10 northeastern counties have been considering a breakaway since the end of the legislative session — a lawmaking season they said was the last straw after years of frustration over dealing with Denver-area lawmakers’ perceived indifference toward the concerns of rural Colorado.

Bills were passed at the expense of farmers, oil and gas producers and gun owners, Weld Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. “I know from meeting with people, they truly believe rural communities are now under attack,” Kirkmeyer said. “There are plenty who told us that we should vote Denver and Boulder off the island.”

Yuma, Cheyenne and Sedgwick counties already have OK’d secession ballot questions. Washington county commissioners also were slated to vote on the issue today, and Kit Carson County will take it up Wednesday.

Morgan County has set an Aug. 26 deadline for signatures to be submitted to place the question on the fall ballot. Lincoln County officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Four public meetings with Weld County residents this summer convinced the commissioners secession is in order.

“They want change,” commission Chairman Bill Garcia said. “They want to be heard. Policies being passed by the Legislature in Denver are having negative impacts on the lives of rural Coloradans.”

If voters do go for it, forming a 51st state will face huge obstacles, including approval in the Legislature and Congress, said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is running for governor against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Still, positive votes for the measure will send a message that rural Coloradans are tired of being overlooked, Brophy said. “It will tell the governor that he has a huge problem with people in the northern part of the state,” he said.

Weld County resident Vicki Anderson told commissioners she also wants the question on the ballot, but only in hopes that “it is resoundingly defeated for this absurd notion.”

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

Come this November, Logan County voters will have a chance to give their input on whether or not several counties in northeastern Colorado should secede and form the nation’s 51st state. During their business meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners approved a resolution submitting to a vote of the registered electors in Logan County, the question of whether to pursue a 51st state.

The question on the ballot will ask “shall the Board of County Commissioners of Logan County, in concert with the county commissioners of other Colorado counties, pursue becoming the 51st state of the United States of America?”

Weld, Phillips, Sedgwick, Cheyenne and Yuma Counties have already OK’d secession ballot questions. Kit Carson will take up the issue today.

Morgan County has set an Aug. 26 deadline for signatures to be submitted to place the question on the fall ballot and Lincoln County officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Moffat County, in northwestern Colorado, is also looking at placing a question on the ballot.

The resolution passed by the Logan County Commissioners states that “the citizens of several rural eastern Colorado counties have voiced extreme dissatisfaction with the current political landscape at the state level and the passage of laws that conflict with the interests, convictions and lifestyles of rural citizens.”

It goes on to say that the commissioners have been “in communication with the county commissioners of at least nine other eastern Colorado counties who, in concert with each other and on behalf of their constituents, have discussed the creation of a 51st state.”

According to the resolution, “public meetings have been held in several eastern Colorado counties to discuss the creation of a new state to more effectively represent the interests and convictions of rural Colorado, and there is strong public support for the opportunity for citizens to voice their wishes in the matter by submitting the question to the electorate.”

The new state would need to be approved by the state legislature, the governor and the U.S. Congress.

More North Colorado secession coverage here.

The Weld County Commissioners put the North Colorado secession question on the fall ballot

Here’s Ms. Hood’s writeup of the vote and meeting on KUNC. Here’s an excerpt:

Weld County Commissioners voted Monday to approve ballot measure language that will appear in front of county voters this November. It will be up to Weld voters to decide if the county should further pursue the formation of a 51st state separate from Colorado.

Three other counties–Cheyenne, Sedgwick, and Yuma–have also decided to put similar measures in front of voters. Counties still deciding whether to put the issue on the ballot include Logan, Phillips, Washington and Kit Carson.

Morgan County Commissioners have decided to leave it up to citizens to get the issue on the ballot. Residents there have until August 26 to gather signatures from 15 percent of active voters.

Westword (Patricia Calhoun) gives the secessionists all the serious attention the proposal deserves:

If at first you don’t secede, try, try again. Ten counties in northeastern Colorado are still considering seceding from the state. Cheyenne County (population 1876, appropriately enough) has already gotten the proposal on the November ballot; Weld County could do the same soon. In this week’s Westword, we offer some alternative slogans, symbols and names for this proposed 51st state, including Uncolorado, Near Nebraska, Southern Wyoming and Coloraduh. But why should northeast Colorado have all the fun?

Here are nine other possible spinoffs:

Potopia : Perfect should Denver and Boulder, as well as that handful of other spots around the state that are respecting the will of the voters on Amendment 64, decide to secede as other local governments ban recreational marijuana sales. (Pairs nicely with Methopotamia, a potential title for the 51st state.)

Crackpotopia: Early contender for the name of the new 51st state, but also available to other crackpot quarters.

Crankerado : Adams County as well as any other county that has more than three curmudgeons show up at county commissioner meetings — not counting the commissioners themselves.

Little Texas: Vail

Little L.A.: Aspen

Coolerado: The Capitol Hill, RiNo, Baker and LoHi neighborhoods of Denver; a slice of Boulder; La Veta, Salida and Crested Butte (the original town, not the resort).

Western Kansas (or Might as Well Be Kansas): An alternative for all those eastern counties that don’t want to be part of Near Nebraska.

Almost Oklahoma: An alternative for all those southeastern counties that don’t want to be part of Might As Well Be Kansas.

New New Mexico: Following the green chile trail from the southern border up to the San Luis Valley, with a few strongholds in Pueblo and metro Denver.

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

Firestone: North Colorado secession public meeting recap

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From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

Weld County’s quest to add “North Colorado” to the United States met with loud approval Monday night in southwest Weld. Approximately 75 people gathered in the Southwest Weld Complex near Firestone to add their voices to the debate over whether to create the 51st state.

Most could agree on two things: there is a “disconnect” between rural Colorado and the Denver-Boulder area, and secession for northeastern Colorado should be put before the voters as soon as possible. “It may just make a statement,” acknowledged Harry McClintock of Frederick. “But doggone it, I really hope we succeed in doing it!”[…]

…several North Colorado supporters acknowledged that a statehood fight would be an uphill battle at best. “Forming a new state in the atmosphere we have now is much, much harder than it was 150 years ago,” said Dan Oster of Kersey, referring to the last “breakway” state to join the Union, West Virginia in 1863…

On Monday, a long line of speakers ran down their list of grievances: gun regulation, oil and gas regulation, firefighter unionization and — the breaking point for some — Senate Bill 252, which doubled the amount of energy rural cooperatives would have to get from “green” sources. “We’re not falling away from Colorado,” Bruce Sparrow of Keenesburg said. “Colorado’s falling away from us.”

Short of statehood, several also expressed support for a suggestion from Phillips County, that the Colorado constitution should be amended to have the Senate elect one member per county, rather than base both chambers on population.

Weld County will hold two more public comment sessions: today at the Evans Recreation Center, 1100 37th St., Evans; and Wednesday at the Ault Fire Department, 16680 Colo. Highway 14, Ault.

Meanwhile, Conway said, a number of people and even some businesses have expressed interest in moving to the new state.

From The Denver Post (Adrian D. Garcia):

Weld County residents said they were ready for a major fight Monday evening. Whether that battle is to secede from Colorado or to change representation, all they want is to be heard and to win respect. The nearly 70 people in attendance were participating in the second public meeting Weld County commissioners have hosted to discuss whether their constituents felt a disconnect and wanted to pursue change.

Every person who spoke agreed there is a disconnect between the needs of rural voters and the laws and policies being passed at the state legislature. “If you’re going to start walking on the people that give the government power, then they’re going to start taking that power back,” Travis Showalter of Frederick said.

Most commissioners from the 10 counties who attended a 51st State initiative meeting July 8 shifted their support to the new plan suggested by Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer. Schafer suggested changing representation in the state Senate or House so that each county would have the same number of representatives. Currently, representation is based on populations.

However, most who spoke at the meeting decided they want the commissioners to pursue seceding from Colorado. “We’re not pulling away from Colorado, Colorado is pulling away from us,” Keenesburg resident Bruce Sparrow said.

Sparrow pointed to laws passed during the last legislative session, such as Amendment 64 that OK’d recreational marijuana and the new renewable energy standards created by SB 252.

Attendees of Thursday’s public meeting held in Fort Lupton expressed similar concerns and asked commissioners to pursue creating a 51st state. “They feel like there are other circumstances where minorities are protected and they’re probably looking for something like that,” said Chip Taylor, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc. “They are concerned about real bona fide issues.”

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer admitted that the road to actual secession will be a bumpy one. The last state to successfully do so was West Virginia in 1863, according to Kirkmeyer, who was joined by her fellow commissioners, except for Mike Freeman. To actually secede, Weld County would have to put that option before its own voters, then get measures approved at the state and federal levels.

Commissioner Sean Conway, who originally supported the plan to secede, opted to support the other proposal instead. Conway, who is also general government chairman for CCI, plans to have the association make the Phillips County proposal a legislative priority during a September meeting, he said. “I’m supporting it and pushing it. I think the Phillips County proposal makes a lot of sense,” Conway said. If he is successful and CCI votes to make the proposal a priority, the group will seek bipartisan sponsorship and introduce it as a bill at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session in January.

Conway and the other four Weld County commissioners attended the two public meetings. Two more discussions are scheduled, one Tuesday in Evans and another Wednesday in Ault.

More North Colorado secession coverage here.

Recap of the Weld County Commissioner’s public meeting about secession

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From The Greeley Tribune (Whitney Phillips):

Of the roughly 50 people who attended the first public meeting about a proposal to form the 51st state, nearly all indicated they are in support of seceding from Colorado — an idea many acknowledged would be a tremendous feat.

Weld County commissioners on Thursday evening held the first of four meetings scheduled to allow public comment on issues surrounding their push to form a new state with other northeastern Colorado counties. At the Fort Lupton Recreation Center, all five commissioners laid out their concerns and proposed solutions regarding what they say is a lack of representation for rural voters. “I think people, when they feel disenfranchised, when they feel that their voices are not being heard, I think that’s a problem in a representative form of government,” commissioner Sean Conway said.

Commissioners told the meeting’s attendees they hope to put the 51st state initiative on the ballot come November, giving voters a chance to decide whether to start the secession process with the state. They said they’re also considering a move to change the state’s constitution and give rural counties more representation. “We believe there’s an attack on oil and gas,” commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. “We believe there’s an attack on agriculture. I don’t think those down in Denver understand any of it.”

Commissioners pointed out several issues — including water, energy production and education — on which they see a disconnect between rural voters and urban legislators. When asked for a show of hands, all residents at the meeting indicated that they think they’re getting the short end of the stick on many of those major issues. “I have an issue with urbanites thinking it’s up to them to know what’s best,” Fort Lupton resident Elena Metro said. “I don’t know what’s best for them, and I don’t think they know what’s best for me.”

The vast majority indicated they were all for adding the 51st state initiative to the Weld ballot. Still, some were skeptical that forming another state would be the best remedy. Area farmers voiced concern over seceding from the state that holds most of their water supply. Some said the more reasonable approach seems to be to push for more representation. “I think it would serve us better to be more proactive,” Fort Lupton resident Mary Martin said.

Jeff Hare, who started a Facebook page for the commissioner’s plan to secede, said the idea of getting more representation at the state Capitol just isn’t enough. “It doesn’t right the wrongs that have been happening,” Hare said.

Commissioners and residents alike acknowledged that the secession process will be a complicated one. Meeting-goers urged commissioners to fully explain all aspects of their plan as they move forward.

Commissioners said they’ll soon announce that they’ll have the help of an educational institution in researching the logistics of forming a new state. They’ve scheduled three more public meetings in different parts of the county. “I think this is a very important dialogue to have,” Conway said. “I think it will hopefully allow us to better community with our folks in Denver.”

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

Northern Colorado secession proposed plans mucked up by water rights

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I’ve been avoiding a post about the proposed secession of several northeastern Colorado counties and the creation of a new state of North Colorado. The effort would be a giant waste of taxpayer dollars in response to the childish reaction from the Weld County Commissioners to the recent legislative session. Upon hearing the news my first reaction was that the new state — whose primary industries are agriculture and oil and gas — would not get any water in the deal. Who would write the compact, which state’s engineer would administer the South Platte River, would Colorado deliver any water at the Weld County border past what is required for the South Platte River Compact?

The idea has attracted attention despite being unworkable. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Weld County commissioners want to create 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. But they also say serious discussions have yet to take place as to how Colorado and the nation’s 51st state —­ the proposed North Colorado, made up of Colorado’s six northeast counties — would share water, the resource needed most by farmers, ranchers and petroleum companies, and virtually everyone. “It’s early in the process, and we’re not to a point yet where we’re discussing those issues, but it could be an interesting dilemma,” said Doug Rademacher, a member of the Board of Weld County Commissioners, which announced this month its desire to join the other northeastern Colorado counties in forming a new state.

Commissioners have said a collective mass of issues have cumulated during the past several years that isolate rural Colorado from the rest of the state and put those counties at a disadvantage. They’ve specifically made reference to state regulations affecting agriculture and oil and gas.

Those two industries, though, depend heavily on water, and water users in the six potentially seceding counties use the resource under a water court system in Colorado — a state they would no longer be a part of, if North Colorado came to fruition. “A water right is the livelihood of many, many people in northeast Colorado … and if you put the security of that right at risk at all — as starting a brand new state might do — that could be enough to convince people they don’t want to go forward with this (new state),” said James Witwer, a water attorney in Denver, who represents various municipalities and agricultural water users in northeast Colorado. “It would be problematic and risky.”

Eight major U.S. rivers flow from Colorado’s mountains and into surrounding states and, because of that, Colorado has agreements in place with its neighbors — compacts that require certain amounts of water to flow across state lines. Such an agreement would have to be made between Colorado and North Colorado. Although it would be the 42nd-largest state in the U.S., North Colorado’s water demands could likely be substantial for its size.

In oil and gas production, every completed horizontal well requires about 2.8 million gallons of water, and every vertical well uses about 400,000 gallons, according to numbers from the Colorado Energy Water Consortium at Colorado State University. More than 75 percent of Colorado’s oil and gas activity takes place in Weld County.

Agriculture uses about 85 percent of Colorado’s water, and four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state, in terms of dollar value, are among those interested in creating North Colorado. Weld County alone accounts for 25 percent of the state’s ag industry. “To say that it would be a ‘big task’ would be an understatement,” Witwer said of creating a water compact that both Colorado and North Colorado could agree on, adding that the legalities of doing so would likely take several years to sort out.

While agriculture uses the majority of the state’s water, farmers and ranchers don’t own all of the water they use.

For years, when there was limited money to be made in ag, growing cities along the northern Front Range bought water rights from farming and ranching families that were getting out of the business. In 1957, when the Colorado-Big Thompson Project first went into operation, 85 percent of the water in the project was owned by agricultural users, according to numbers from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees operations of the C-BT Project. But today, only 34 percent of the water in the C-BT — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — is owned by agricultural users.

Now a lot of producers, while owning some of their water, depend on renting water from cities, some of which — like Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont — wouldn’t be included in the new state. Transferring rental water across state lines from Colorado to North Colorado could make things more complicated for farmers than they are now, experts say.

Water is only going to become more precious to northeast Coloradans in the future, and water issues are only expected to become more complex. According to the 2010 Statewide Water Initiative Study, the South Platte River basin in northeast Colorado could lose as much as 190,000 acres of irrigated farmland by 2050 due to water shortages.

Weld County commissioners say Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma and Kit Carson counties have all expressed interest in the idea of forming their own state.

They said the entire Weld County board is in agreement about the initiative, which they said has been suggested by numerous Weld County residents.

Commissioners said they plan to hold several public meetings to gather input from the community on whether creating the new state is a good idea before crafting a ballot initiative by Aug. 1. Under guidelines in the U.S. Constitution, North Colorado would have to get the consent of the Colorado General Assembly and the U.S. Congress to move forward with forming its own state. But many, including John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s adviser on water, say they hope talks of North Colorado don’t go forward much more, since creating the new state would require getting over a number of “very complex” hurdles — including the water issues. “When it comes to water, nothing is simple,” Stulp said. “This certainly wouldn’t be simple. Rather than going this route, we’d like to see everyone work together to sort out what’s needed.”

Meanwhile the editorial board of The Greeley Tribune doesn’t think the idea of secession holds water. Here’s their editorial extolling the virtues of cooperation:

Since the Weld County commissioners first publicly proposed the idea of joining with several other northeastern counties to secede from Colorado and form the nation’s 51st state, there have been plenty of unanswered questions about how the effort would work.

That’s to be expected. The project still is little more than a proposal at this point. The commissioners contend a host of disagreements with a Denver-centric Legislature and governor’s office led them to propose the split. They say the “collective mass” of issues has accumulated during the past several years and have isolated rural Colorado from the rest of the state, and put those counties at a disadvantage. Weld’s main economic drivers — agriculture and energy — are under attack from the Legislature and governor’s office, even though they fill Colorado coffers, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said when commissioners proposed the new state earlier this month.

Still, they acknowledge they haven’t yet delved into the details.

One such detail is water, much of which would have to come from sources that reside outside the potential boundaries of the new state.

“A water right is the livelihood of many, many people in northeast Colorado … and if you put the security of that right at risk at all, as starting a brand new state might do, that could be enough to convince people they don’t want to go forward with this (new state),” said James Witwer, a water attorney in Denver, who represents various municipalities and agricultural water users in northeast Colorado. “It would be problematic and risky.”

Although North Colorado would be the 42nd-largest state in the United States, its water demands would be substantial.

In oil and gas production, every completed horizontal well requires about 2.8 million gallons of water, and every vertical well uses about 400,000 gallons, according to numbers from the Colorado Energy Water Consortium at Colorado State University. More than 75 percent of Colorado’s oil and gas activity takes place in Weld County.

Agriculture uses about 85 percent of Colorado’s water, and four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state — in terms of dollar value — are inside the potential boundaries of North Colorado. Weld alone accounts for 25 percent of the state’s ag industry.

However, much of the water on which this industry depends comes from parts of Colorado that would remain outside the new state. In fact, many farmers lease water from some of Colorado’s urban areas, such as Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont.

To provide water for North Colorado’s farmers, ranchers and oil and gas drillers, the new state would need to agree on a water compact with its southern neighbor, a task that would at best take years to accomplish.

“To say that it would be a ‘big task’ would be an understatement,” Witwer said.

Of course, these questions about water rights aren’t likely to ever really demand answers. Because neither the Colorado Legislature nor the U.S. Congress — both of which would have to approve North Colorado — have little to gain by allowing a 51st state, the prospects that the commissioners’ venture will become a reality are slim at best. Still, it’s worth examining the water problems the hypothetical state would face, because doing so can teach us valuable lessons. The story of water in North Colorado shows clearly just how easily unintended consequences can unravel even the best plans. But more importantly, the story illustrates how intertwined we all are in this state.

Geography has left us with no choice. Whether we’re negotiating a complex and uncertain intrastate water compact or simply working together in Colorado to resolve our differences, rural residents and urban residents must work together.

Clearly, Colorado is stronger united than divided.

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.