November 4th, 2013
03:55 PM ET
10 months ago

Colorado rural counties to vote: Should we stay or should we go?

(CNN) - Voters in 11 rural counties in northern Colorado will go the polls Tuesday to decide whether they want to continue living in the 137-year-old state or break off and form their own.

Even if a majority of voters in the referendum approve secession, breaking away would be a daunting, perhaps nigh-on-impossible path. A new state would require approval first in the Colorado legislature and then from the U.S. Congress, as laid out by Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution.

But then, that's not the point.

The point, says Sean Conway, is to send a message "to the governor. Send a message to our legislators," said the commissioner of Weld County, the most populous of the 11 counties seeking to secede.

"We're tired of being ignored, we're tired of being politically disenfranchised, and if you don't wake up and you don't start to change things, you're going to see more movements like this begin to take a more serious face and move towards creating our own political entity that we believe will protect our very way of life and our economy."

Few in Colorado expect the secession movement to succeed. But for many in the 11 counties - 10 in the northeast and one in the northwest that would join Wyoming - it seems the only viable option for having their voices heard in a Democratic-controlled state legislature that they feel puts the concerns of urban residents ahead of the concerns of those in rural areas.

In part, rural Coloradans feel they weren't heard when the state passed a stringent gun control measure, a law that lead to the successful recall of two of the state's most powerful Democratic legislators.

But the straw that really broke the camel's back, according to Conway, was an energy bill that raised the amount of electricity that must come from renewable sources. Conway argues the law unfairly favored urban communities while putting a much harsher, more expensive burden on those in rural areas.

"We're not renewable-energy unfriendly out here in rural Colorado," Conway said. "But when you start imposing mandates different on other folks than yourself, that's the definition of tyranny, and I think it's kind of where this whole issue started to manifest itself."

No governor wants to preside over a breakup of his or her state, and Gov. John Hickenlooper is no exception.

"Rural communities are hurting, but it's not because of background checks on guns sales, civil unions for gay people or expanded renewable energy. In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small. The same is true of our efforts to protect water for agricultural uses, expand broadband into rural areas, and promote tourism and economic diversity across the state," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

"There may be a political agenda behind secession I don't get, because when I think of Colorado, it means all of our diverse communities and people. I can't imagine Colorado being Colorado without the Eastern Plains. If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive. But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening."

When it comes to the counties considering secession, politics run hand in hand with geography. When Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver did the math, he realized that had the 11 counties been a state of their own in the 2012 elections, that state would have been the second most Republican of all, behind only Utah. Yet Colorado overall went to President Barack Obama, earning 51% of the vote compared to Mitt Romney's 46%.

"You see this going on in a lot of states, that increasingly you have one-party control in a lot of state governments. Right now there are 43 states where one party is in control of both chambers of the state legislature," Masket said.

"That's actually the highest number since the 1950s, and the minority party is looking for ways to stop that in different places."

But Jeffrey Hare says secession isn't about politics.

"It's about having a government that is responsive to the needs of its communities, and what we've seen at the state level is an urban-based legislature forced their will against rural Colorado time and time again," said the organizer of The 51st State Initiative. "We think this is a healthy response to this urban-versus-rural divide that's not just the case in Colorado. It's really throughout the country."

Secession is not the only item on Colorado's referendum ballot Tuesday. While only the 11 northern counties will be voting on breaking away from the state, all the Centennial State will be voting on a school-funding bill and on raising new taxes for marijuana, which was recently legalized.

A new state from a portion of the old is not unprecedented, Conway said. Of the 50 states, five were once part of another: Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maine and Vermont. Also worth noting: No state has broken away since West Virginia in 1863 and no state has technically seceded since North Carolina in 1861.

Not everyone in Weld County agrees with Conway and Hare. District Attorney Ken Buck says he won't be voting for the non-binding measure, even if he understands it.

"It's not the best strategy. The best strategy for dealing with the political issues is through the political system," said the U.S. Senate candidate.

Working through the system hasn't worked out for a lot of conservative causes lately.

"I think what's happening is that things are moving so fast the people don't feel included in the process. We've legalized marijuana. We've legalized civil unions. We've legalized a lot of things very quickly," Buck said. "That's a lot of change for people to accept."


Filed under: Colorado
soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. The Real Tom Paine

    Ok Justy, this time, READ THE ARTICLE before you post. While I don't hold much hope that you will reach the same conclusion as anyone with a high school GED ( in other words, people above your station in life), you can always give ti a try, or have your shift manager at BKs lend a hand.

    November 4, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    So when a major disaster hits those counties, don't come running back asking the U.S. for aid.

    November 4, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    ""But when you start imposing mandates different on other folks than yourself, that's the definition of tyranny, and I think it's kind of where this whole issue started to manifest itself.""

    Yeah, stuff like "your federal ID that you use to get food stamps and your state university ID...those are no good for registering to vote anymore...but my gun license still is."

    November 4, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  4. Lynda/Minnesota

    So, TeaPers want to take their "ball", run away, and form a new state because they don't like the current state legislation?

    Shaking in laughter.

    November 4, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    This is about one thing and one thing only: these conservatives only think democracy is fine and dandy when their votes win.

    November 4, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  6. Data Driven

    "But then, that's not the point"

    Indeed. The point appears to be to whine as loud as a toddler who just consumed a 3-shot vengi Americano.

    "Working through the system hasn't worked out for a lot of conservative causes lately."

    Thassss right. When your ideas lose in the arena of public opinion in a majority-rules nation, YOU DON'T GET WHAT YOU WANT.

    November 4, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    " We've legalized a lot of things very quickly," Buck said. "That's a lot of change for people to accept.""

    And we have one thing to say to them: Get on the bus or get under it...we're done stalling and waiting around for you to catch up and become comfortable with progress.

    November 4, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. The Real Tom Paine

    Reasonable arguments will persuade people to a point of view, not threats of political destruction. Secession in any form is an inherently radical act, and not one that is ultimately in the best interest of citizens. Upstate NY has talked about seceeding any number of times, and what it comes down to is that it would reduce upstate to the status of West Virginia. Buck is correct in stating that working through the political system is the best way in the long term, since it promotes stability for the nation as a whole. Balkanization of our states will not achieve what is in the best long-term interests of the nation, only to weaken us further.

    November 4, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  9. Mark

    No way it ever happens. First off those counties would be another red welfare state, relying on the Federal government for operating funds. Second, the CO legislature isn't going to authorize it. Third, the US Senate isn't going to authorize it, since it would certainly mean two GOP Senators, and Forth, if it somehow passed the Senate, Obama isn't going to sign it for the same reason.

    November 4, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  10. It is Time to Say Good Bye, Thanks but No Thanks

    Reality is that this country is split down the middle. Each half does not wish to live under the laws of the the other half wants to force on each other. It may be time to part ways. Let the looney left have their states with their bankrupt urban squalor cities and the red sates will have their states. Everybody can move to a state of their choice and all red states must remain red and all blue states remain blue.

    If we don't accept a peaceful solution then this country will head down the road to civil war again. It happened in the Balkans and can happen here. It is only a matter of time.

    November 4, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  11. Translation is....

    Sniffit
    -–
    " We've legalized a lot of things very quickly," Buck said. "That's a lot of change for people to accept.""
    -–
    And we have one thing to say to them: Get on the bus or get under it...we're done stalling and waiting around for you to catch up and become comfortable with progress.
    -–

    The usual leftist Democrat response of my way or the highway.

    November 4, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    I've been warning you, folks. When the Tea Party finishes destoying the federal government, they will start on the state, country and local governments. They seek a new order, one with very strict and rigid social rules.

    November 4, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. loving it

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    So when a major disaster hits those counties, don't come running back asking the U.S. for aid.

    Though I don't agree with this idea, and I have a bit of interest in Colorado politics, they are not suggesting seceding from the US, just breaking off from Colorado.

    November 4, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC

    " We've legalized a lot of things very quickly," Buck said. "That's a lot of change for people to accept.""
    ---------------–
    Keeping things the same is the basic definition of conservatism. Unfortunately, keeping things the same for all eternity promotes stagnation, rot, and decay. In different eras, conservatives would have been against arithmetic, written language, man-made clothes, and cooked food.

    November 4, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  15. Tigas

    But the "Great Uniter" who was supposed to "usher in an era of unprecedented cooperation"...
    Over 4 years of Hoax and Blame is causing states to fall apart across party lines. Colorado is not the only state seeking separation.

    November 4, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  16. The Real Tom Paine

    -Translation is....

    Sniffit
    -–
    " We've legalized a lot of things very quickly," Buck said. "That's a lot of change for people to accept.""
    -–
    And we have one thing to say to them: Get on the bus or get under it...we're done stalling and waiting around for you to catch up and become comfortable with progress.
    -–

    The usual leftist Democrat response of my way or the highway.
    ************
    Oh please, there are more than enough examples of the Right wing using the machinery of the state to coerce people on issues, starting with abortion and gun control. You assign more rights to an inanimate object than you do to the women who's sole role in your ideal society is to be a uterus with hands.

    November 4, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  17. Rudy NYC

    "It's about having a government that is responsive to the needs of its communities, and what we've seen at the state level is an urban-based legislature forced their will against rural Colorado time and time again," said the organizer of The 51st State Initiative. "We think this is a healthy response to this urban-versus-rural divide that's not just the case in Colorado. It's really throughout the country."
    -----------------–
    Be fruitful and multiply. This is just a gimmick to create more conservative votes in the U.S. Congress.

    November 4, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "The usual leftist Democrat response of my way or the highway."

    Yeah, because we're the ones who have been signing blood oaths to never create additional gov't revenue, swearing oaths never to help the ACA with any problems and engaging in outright purges of "RINOs" and other blaspheming party heretics who fail to toe the party line, threatening to primary them with loony radicals all over the country...then opening up important negotiations like budget conferences by stating that "the only thing allowed to be done here is cuts and any discussion of revenue will be a non-starter" after shutting down the gov't for 16 days, costing the economy $24B, holding the country's credit hostage and threatening to cause a default on it that could very well collapse the global economy in order to demand ransom in the form of an ideological wishlist that is unachievable through the normal channels because we only won control of the House in the election. Yep...that's the "leftists/liberals"...

    Fact: this has nothing to do with "our way or the highway." We'll just leave you behind in the dust like on every issue the GOP/Teatrolls/conservatives have chosen the wrong side of history. It's all catching up to you now though, so bwahahahaha in your face.

    November 4, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  19. Sad truth

    The large Democrat ghetto cities start controlling states and people in the rural areas have their way of life destroyed by these criminal urban gangsters and the laws they pass. If you got rid of the leftist urban hive cities and the massive collection of government dependence they spawn, the country would be fine. Detroit is a glowing example of this. Chicago another.

    November 4, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  20. The Real Tom Paine

    Its amazing how the Right always wants to rewrite the very rules they claim as sacred whenever they know they are losing.

    November 4, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "the women who's sole role in your ideal society is to be a uterus with hands."

    Well, and feet too...otherwise how could she be barefoot?

    November 4, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  22. Wire Palladin, S.F.

    Where are the jobs that Boehner and the right wing nuts ran on in 2010?

    November 4, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    "Let the looney left have their states with their bankrupt urban squalor cities and the red sates will have their states."

    And all of the tax revenue that those "bankrupt urban squalor cities" generate will suddenly be kept by those cities, won't get redistributed to the red states like it does now to keep them afloat and the red states will very quickly devolve into rural hell holes without much of anything in terms of infrastructure or economy. So yeah, I'm all for it...watching the red states come crawling back begging for that sweet sweet federal aid will be freekin hilarious.

    November 4, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  24. tom l

    Sniffit said that a state university ID card is not valid for voting and neither is your federal ID card.

    That's just simply not true (either I have misread your comment or you're just lying). I went to the state website (which is working ;)) to see what would be allowable and BOTH were acceptable forms of ID. You know what else was acceptable? A cable bill or a telephone bill could be acceptable. Wow dude, you have lost it.

    November 4, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. The Real Tom Paine

    -Tigas

    But the "Great Uniter" who was supposed to "usher in an era of unprecedented cooperation"...
    Over 4 years of Hoax and Blame is causing states to fall apart across party lines. Colorado is not the only state seeking separation.
    ***********************************
    Yes, that was the hope: unfortunately, it takes 2 to tango, and we all know that the mood was set with " I want him to fail", " ...our goal is to make him a one-term president", etc. However, the article was not about Colorado seeking separation, its about some conservative northern counties that want to spin off and form their own state because they can't seem to win anything statewide anymore. I suggest you actually read the article before posting some nonsensical crap like that.

    November 4, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
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