Voters in Weld County will vote on whether to secede from Colorado after commissioners this week unanimously agreed to put the question on November’s ballot.
Weld County, the largest of several that have been seriously discussing breaking away to form their own state, joins three other counties in putting the question to its citizens. Several others are also considering referring the measure to voters or waiting to see if citizen initiatives show support for the idea.
The so-called 51st State Initiative is a result of rural Coloradans feeling abandoned by politicians in Denver. The last legislative session, which was controlled by Democratic majorities in both chambers, saw the passage of numerous controversial laws, many of which thumb their noses at rural values, commissioners in the plains counties have said.
Chief among them was a controversial bill requiring rural electricity cooperatives to double the amount of renewable energy they offer by 2020, a mandate that doesn’t apply to city utilities and which opponents have said will raise electricity rates on rural customers.
County leaders have also been alarmed at attempts to strengthen regulations on oil and gas developers, which are heavily invested in rural counties. And they’ve also been riled by tough new gun laws that limit the size of ammunition magazines and require universal background checks for all firearms transfers.
Representatives from as many as 11 counties met throughout the summer to discuss the secession proposal and other measures that would amplify the voices of rural Coloradans. Also under consideration is a measure to amend the state constitution to allow for more political representation in Denver and even an idea to be annexed by neighboring Wyoming.
“The concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored for years,” Weld County commissioner chairman William Garcia said in a statement reported by the Colorado Observer. “The last session was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many people. They want change. They want to be heard.”
Making such a change is easier said than done, however. If voters pass the secession referendums, the county commissioners must then ask the state legislature to petition Congress for their statehood. If the legislature refuses, the counties could then petition the measure onto the statewide ballot in a future election.
Only after Congress grants approval would the 51st state of “North Colorado” be formed.
Leaders of the movement have admitted that it’s a long shot, but Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told the Observer that debate around the idea has already had some impact.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper kicked off his reelection campaign by traveling to rural areas, a decision that Conway sees as significant.
And Hickenlooper came close to admitting that the last legislative session was skewed in favor of urban interests during a recent radio interview.
“There are enough people that feel that their views and their opinions aren’t being considered that I think that’s a serious problem and I take it very seriously,” he said on 850 KOA.
“And you have my commitment that I will, you know, work especially hard this next session to try and make sure that we have a more balanced approach to all Colorado.”
Weld County leaders have said they received messages of support and interest from numerous counties, some of which wouldn’t qualify to be part of a future North Colorado because they don’t share borders with the rebellious counties.
Leaders in some of those counties are considering nonbinding resolutions supporting the secession bid, the Observer reported.
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