‘North Colorado’ secession effort smaller than planned, but still alive

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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A quixotic effort by 11 of Colorado’s more conservative rural counties to form their own state passed by strong margins in a core of six counties in the far northeastern corner of the state Tuesday night.

But voters in some of the bigger and more influential counties quashed the idea, preferring to remain as part of Colorado.

The vote collapsed in Weld County, where talk of secession originated several months ago. Voters there rejected the idea by a convincing 58-42 percent.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, one of the biggest advocates of forming a 51st state from counties that felt alienated from Denver politicians, said the county would drop the idea but continue to work on ways to make rural Coloradans feel better represented.

“Weld County voters said this is an option we shouldn’t pursue and we won’t pursue it,” Conway told the Denver Post Tuesday night. “But we will continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state.”

But the issue is very much alive in the six contiguous counties of Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Kit Carson, Cheyenne and Yuma, all of which voted to instruct their commissioners to pursue statehood. It’s unclear how rigorously the mandate will be followed now that Weld County — by far the largest of the breakaway counties, with the largest population and the most revenue in terms of oil and gas development — is out of the picture.

At a series of planning meetings held over the summer, commissioners in several of the counties that have now voted to secede were less gung-ho about the idea than those in Weld County, seemingly wary of the daunting hurdles ahead.

Those include petitioning the state legislature for its blessing to break away, and then requesting that Congress grant statehood. Neither is likely to happen.

But even as the votes were being counted Tuesday night, several backers of the 51st state initiative said that the greater point was to highlight animosity felt on the plains for urban lawmakers. Rural Coloradans felt trampled by the Democratic-led legislature, which passed a slew of progressive laws with little consideration for dissenting voices. The final straw for many in plains counties was a bill mandating that rural electricity providers double the amount of energy they get from wind and solar, a decree that’s expected to raise utility bills for rural customers.

“I still think there was a message that was sent,” Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer told the Greeley Tribune. “I still think there was a lot of folks who said they feel disconnected from their state government, and that we need to look for some other answers. There still is a disconnect out there.”

The immediate next steps have yet to be decided. A posting late Tuesday night on the 51st State Initiative’s Facebook page indicated that the breakaway counties have a lot of thinking to do.

“There was much to be excited about in the results tonight and some things we definitely need to work on,” the post read. “We will recap tomorrow and determine a course forward. One thing is certain, the journey has just begun. We cannot and will not stop until we get a favorable resolution. Are you in for the long run?”

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Greg Campbell