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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks before he signs into law the civil unions act in Denver March 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking) Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks before he signs into law the civil unions act in Denver March 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)  

Hickenlooper: Secession attempt will ‘make the state stronger’

Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said that an attempt by 11 rural counties to secede from the state and form their own will ultimately make Colorado stronger.

Hickenlooper, campaigning for a second term amid widespread disapproval of his policies in rural areas, has been trying to mend fences lately and convince rural voters that he also has their interests in mind.

“I can’t imagine Colorado being Colorado without the eastern plains,” he told Denver’s 9News before the election in which five of the 11 counties voted to proceed with the so-called 51st State Initiative. “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.”

This week Hickenlooper told Colorado Counties Inc. that he’d gotten the message, loud and clear.

The secession question “really led to debates and discussions that are going to make each of your counties stronger and, I think, ultimately make the state stronger,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

He also said he’s spoken with incoming Senate President Morgan Carroll about “how we have to do a better job of making sure everybody gets their voice heard.”

Carroll replaced former Senate President John Morse, who was one of two Democratic state senators recalled in September for their support of tough new gun control laws. Those laws were among the complaints of rural Coloradans who supported the idea of breaking away and forming the 51st state.

But leaders in those counties were mostly upset with a new law requiring rural energy cooperatives to double the amount of renewable energy they offer to their customers, a mandate that’s expected to raise rates. Urban utilities aren’t required to make the same commitment, leading many people to complain that rural counties aren’t being heard in the capitol.

With recent polls showing Hickenlooper running just barely ahead of Tom Tancredo, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, Hickenlooper has been spending a lot of time talking to voters and county commissioners in the rural counties. He recently accepted an invitation to hear the concerns of Moffat County residents (one of the breakaway counties that voted against pursuing secession) and he announced his disagreement with a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to protect the sage grouse from oil and gas development on federal lands, a proposal that some northwestern counties worry could impact their economies.

His critics received some of these efforts, including his comments to Colorado Counties Inc., coolly. Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer told the AP she wasn’t happy with Hickenlooper’s answer when asked if he would scrap the renewable energy law. He said opponents were welcome to introduce bills to modify it.

But she said she hopes that after all the turmoil recently, “he will at least listen better this year, this time around.”

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