After weeks of informal meetings about forming the country’s 51st state from a consortium of disgruntled rural counties, leaders of the North Colorado secessionist movement heard from the public for the first time Thursday night.
And what they heard was overwhelming support for the idea of breaking away from a state whose leaders, they say, have declared war on their lifestyle.
The public meeting was held by the full five-person board of Weld County Commissioners, who have spearheaded the so-called 51st State Initiative in response to several new laws passed by a Democratic-controlled legislature this year.
They include a slate of new gun control laws, a highly controversial requirement for rural electricity cooperatives to double the amount of power they get from renewable energy and several initiatives that attempted to increase regulations on oil and gas developers who operate primarily in rural counties.
“We believe there’s an attack on oil and gas,” Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said on NPR affiliate KUNC. “We believe there’s an attack on agriculture. I don’t think those folks who are making laws down in Denver understand any of it.”
Commissioner Sean Conway, the de facto spokesman for the effort, has said Denver politicians ignore the concerns of rural people, which has lead to anger and frustration.
“People when they feel disenfranchised and they feel their voices aren’t being heard. That’s a problem in a representative form of government,” Conway told the radio station.
Representatives from as many as 11 counties attended informational meetings in the past two months, where they discussed everything from how to secede to whether to secede.
Some counties are more energized than others at the idea of forming a new state, with the reluctant commissioners saying any vote to start the process must originate with their citizens.
In some places, those citizens have spoken. At the Phillips County Commissioners meeting on July 18, many in attendance voiced their support for a ballot question on the issue.
“The way I gather from this crowd, we will put the question on the ballot this November,” Joe Kinnie, chair of the commissioner board, told the Holyoke Enterprise newspaper.
Commissioners in Cheyenne County have also said they would put the matter to a vote in November.
And Weld County — the largest and most populous of the rebellious counties — is clearly leaning that way as well. Only one person at Thursday’s meeting, out of about 50 people in attendance, spoke out against the plan.
The process of seceding is a lengthy one, beginning with each county’s citizens voting on whether or not to pursue it. Contiguous counties that vote to secede would then appeal to the state legislature to pass a resolution petitioning Congress to recognize the new state of North Colorado. Statehood would be conferred only if Congress gives its blessing.
If the state legislature fails to recognize the counties’ desire to split, secession proponents could then petition for a statewide vote on whether to let North Colorado go.
At a meeting earlier in July, some county commissioners voiced support for a different course of action, amending the state constitution to rework how state senators or state representatives are elected in Colorado. Currently, legislative districts are based on population, meaning that rural interests are always outnumbered at the state capitol.
Regardless of which course is eventually taken — and regardless of whether it is successful — the important thing is for rural areas of the state to have their voices heard, Conway said.
“We have to address a growing problem that was clearly evidenced here, tonight,” he told Denver’s 7News at Thursday’s meeting. “There’s a disconnect. People feel politically disenfranchised, and we’re trying to figure out a way to re-engage.”
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