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Rural Coloradans to vote on breaking away as 51st state, angered by liberal policies on guns, energy
DENVER — You've got North Carolina and North Dakota, so why not Northern Colorado?
Voters in several rural Colorado counties will be asked whether they want to form a new state tentatively named Northern Colorado in the November election, a reaction to the Democrat-controlled state legislature's "war on rural Colorado."
The Weld County Commissioners voted unanimously at Monday's meeting to place a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot asking voters whether they want the county to join other rural counties in forming another state.
"The concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored for years," William Garcia, chairman of the Weld County Commissioners, said in a statement. "The last session was the straw that broke the camel's back for many people. They want change. They want to be heard."
Three other rural counties — Cheyenne, Sedgwick and Yuma — also plan to place the 51st state referendum on the fall ballot. At least three more counties plan to consider the proposal this week at their commission meetings, said Jeffrey Hare, spokesman for the 51st State Initiative.
Known for its agriculture and oil and gas production, Weld is the largest of the Colorado counties exploring a break with the state after the legislature's sharp turn to the left with bills restricting access to firearms and doubling the state's renewable-energy mandate for rural areas.
Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. Two Democratic state senators — Angela Giron and John Morse — are facing Sept. 10 recall elections in response to the legislature's gun control votes.
Forming a state isn't easy: Even if the ballot measures pass, the Colorado state legislature would be required to amend the constitution to configure the state's borders and refer a request for a new state to Congress.
Approving a 51st state would require a majority vote of both houses of Congress, although the Constitution doesn't require the signature of the president, Mr. Hare said.
"Again, folks say this can never happen. However, we are starting to hear from disenfranchised groups all over the country," said a post on the 51st State Initiative's website. "We are truly a divided nation. It is possible, if not likely, that we may not be the only group requesting from Congress the formation of a new state."
This isn't the first time disgruntled residents have explored the option of a state split. In the past few decades, movements have sprung up in favor of carving California and Washington into two states.
New York has had a host of proposals aimed at peeling off jurisdictions, including New York City, upstate New York and western New York. The most recent effort was in 2008, when the Suffolk County comptroller proposed splitting off Long Island.
Since the boundaries of the newly independent Colonies were finalized in the 1790s, two states have gained that status by breaking off from extant states. Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War.
Given the complexities involved with creating a state, Mr. Hare said, the Northern Colorado movement is considering two other options: asking Wyoming to annex Colorado's northern counties or requesting that the state legislature redraw its Senate districts to give a senator to each of the state's 64 counties, analogous to how the U.S. apportions seats by state, regardless of their populations.
Colorado now has 35 senators in districts drawn by population, giving the state's urban areas far greater sway in the state legislature.
"People are looking for hope because they feel like the government is out of control," said Mr. Hare. "They feel kind of hopeless."
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway called Monday's vote "a very positive move forward" that "gives us a chance to address our grievances from the last legislative session."
The Greeley Tribune came out against the statehood movement in an Aug. 7 editorial, "Time to drop 51st state idea."
"While we understand and agree with the message commissioners are trying to send to Denver — rural counties feel disenfranchised — we think Weld residents would be better served if commissioners drop the 51st state idea and focus on engaging the state's political leaders in a constructive dialogue that addresses their issues," the editorial said.
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About the Author
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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