November 4th, 2013
03:55 PM ET
9 years 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. Jonathan

    Part of a disturbing trend. Power has shifted and those that have lost now want to change the rules. I see this with some of my more right wing friends. They now happily point out that the US is a Republic not a Democracy and advocate things like allocating electoral college votes by Congressional Distric (using this method Mitt Romney would have won). Its scary how the knowingly want to make the country less democratic as well as Democratic.

    November 4, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  2. here and back again

    What have other minority groups done to be heard? But the Tea Party isn't OK with that are they?

    November 4, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. normhombre

    Although this may only be an attempt to attract attention, it speaks for itself. Conservatives love to whine and gnash their teeth and wring their hands when they don't get their way. As someone who comes from Texas, where there is always a small group of angry white folks who threaten to seceed, it gets old. The good folks of rural NE and NW Colorado should really try and understand what majority rules means. Threatening to "take your ball and go home" if you don't get your way is ridiculous. You can always move down here to Texas where the ultra-rightwing are in control. You would be welcome I"m sure. Just don't come to Austin!

    November 4, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  4. loverpoint

    Just because you secede does not mean you can become a new state. That requires approval.. I'm sure the good people of Colorado will demand reparations. This will become a comedic tragedy. If the USA can put up a fence along the US/ Mexican border I'm sure it will be no problem to put up a fence that surrounds this county.

    November 4, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  5. truth hurts but reality bites

    American is a free country or used to be anyways., Why not just let them go their own way? Why force people to be part of something they don't want to be a part of? Let the competition between the states take place. What are the left wingers so concerned about? How will be it any harm to them? You back marriage rights for gays saying what harm is it to others. Same applies here. Why should urban city dwellars be deciding how these people live their rural lives? Makes zero sense.

    November 4, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. tom l

    @The Real Tom Paine,

    I thank you for your question (albeit I'm sure there was sarcasm but at least you want to know). 🙂 He was referring to Obama's ability to enact his policies. He wanted him to fail at being able to implement things like the Dodd Frank Act (which has done nothing but make life more difficult and has done nothing to tamp down fraud), the "stimulus" bill that was going to run us about 900 billion dollars and the ACA. All of these are policies that he felt would do harm to the country. In these cases, I agree with him. I think that all 3 of these are shining examples of how the govt has wasted our money and has had nothing to show for it other than greater debt. So he didn't want him to fail because he is a black man, as Sniffit would have you believe, he wanted him to fail at getting those policies passed.

    Does that make sense? Isn't that a lot different than how you are presenting it?

    November 4, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  7. Larry in Houston

    they are watching too much of the lies they spew on the other news's too bad, but I guess that's the way it is.....My wife can be 3 rooms away, and know when or if I flip the channel......when she hears all the negativity / hollering / arguing / talking over top of each other / talking at the same time / spewing hate constantly / I mean it's pitiful.....LOL – she told me that if she caught me on that channel again, she was going to take that remote, and throw it in the trash....+ she was going to get a rolling pin – to my head....

    November 4, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  8. just asking

    so all the lefties in here are always screaming about how all these red state people are losers and leeches and now when they have a chance to get rid of these people, they refuse to let them go their own way. so are you aqll just lying or do you want to force your left wing nuttiness on others. gotta be one of them.

    November 4, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  9. tom l

    "Taking "you didn't build that" out of context illegitimately ignored that Obama was making a point about the various contributions all parts of society make toward each individual's achievements, including the federal gov't providing the entire societal and physical infrastructure that makes their attempts to succeed possible in the first place."

    So I guess you don't like it when things are taken out of context. I agree that quote was taken out of context and it's lame when people do that. So then you admit that your side is wrong when they do that. I will accept your apology.

    Now, we all know also that there is a difference between what a libertarian, such as me, thinks of the role of govt and what a liberal, such as you or Obama, believes is the role of govt with regards to the economy. You believe, just like Obama, that the "you didn't build that" means that without a large, strong govt that our economy would not function properly. I believe that the bigger the govt the smaller the individual and a stiffling of business occurs when the govt gets involved. I'm not sure why you don't want to own that comment as it does speak very clearly to his position and role of govt. But was it taken out of context? Yes. And that's not cool.

    November 4, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  10. Tough Question

    If they do secede how will they keep the liberal vermin out? Or will they just have seasons when they can be hunted?

    November 4, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  11. Larry in Houston

    The 11 counties are rural...that's a fact...... guess they want to keep their "pot" and not have the rest of the state tax it. LOL – then what about 'ol granny ? remember what she used to do in the old days ?

    """Grandma takes a shot of whiskey every night for medical purposes. Red wine has been shown to have medicinal properties. Two drinks a day helps people live longer. Why shouldn't we also get rid of all the alcohol taxes as well?

    yeah right.....LOL ....that might be the reason why they want to secede.....let them go 4 it.....

    November 4, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  12. Ol' Yeller

    tom I you are losing it. To sit there and deny the overt and historical racism in your party is to either be completely and utterly ignorant (which I haven't ruled out) or so deep in denial you need medication and bedrest to pull out of it (thank goodness you will now have insurance coverage for that). To deny the shenanigans and SCOTUS decision in bush v. Gore (by one vote mind you) is also head in the sand behavior. It is history, but that don't mean you get to sit on here and change the facts to fit your skewed ideology. In fact, bush v. Gore is arguably the reason the ACA was found constitutional by the court. Roberts knew the court could not have another politically motivated decision like that in bush v. Gore and the Citizen's United case.
    Do you read? Do you comprehend what you have read?
    If so, I'm going to have to go with my first thought, otherwise you need to make an appointment with a Psychologist...

    November 4, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  13. LCW

    When Jesus comes to take his rightful place we all will understand right from wrong clearly and sadly. History books are accepted as fact the world over. The Bible is one of those, yet people choose to reject it because it is challenging to them. Folks it is hard to do the right thing, when our hearts want to drink, cuss, and watch football all day, but the Word when applied can and will keep families, friends, counties, states, and countries together and in harmony. Without moral values I am afraid we will not survive. Lets just start by getting back to telling the truth. Since you politicians are supposed to lead the country maybe you could set an example and be the first.

    November 4, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  14. Data Driven

    Someone on Page 2 here said,

    "This is all part of the extreme liberal progressive agenda to have the cities drive policy in America"

    Extreme liberal agenda or not, it's a fact that most people live in the city. Majority rules, babe - welcome to democracy!

    November 4, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  15. Hammerer

    Funny that the obomber minions fault the tea party with trying to destroy America at a time when every day a new lie is exposed.
    This regime has been exposed as the most corrupt in history. They have told so many lies that they can not remember what is truth and which is a lie.
    Now the light is starting to shine on their charades and the tales are unraveling, showing the the deception they have used.
    The truth usually comes out and the moment of truth is at hand!
    Watch the rats run!

    November 4, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  16. Wake up People!

    Go please and take Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and all the rest of the states where the whites lost their collective minds when a half white, half black man was elected as President.


    November 4, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
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