DENVER | Advocates of the effort to form a 51st state comprised of rural northern Colorado counties will have to do so without the support of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
In his first comments on the statehood movement since eight rural counties placed the question on their November ballots, Mr. Hickenlooper told the Craig [Colo.] Daily Press that the drive runs counter to the state's diverse political culture.
"There may be a political agenda behind secession I don't get, because when I think of Colorado, it means all of our diverse communities and people," the Democratic governor said in Saturday's edition.
Eight county commissions will ask voters on their Nov. 5 ballots whether they want to split off from the rest of the state and form a 51st state, a reaction to what is viewed as the Democrat-controlled state legislature's so-called war on rural Colorado.
Jeffrey Hare, spokesman for the 51st State Initiative, argued that there was nothing inclusive about the state legislature's recent push to pass laws over the objections of rural Coloradans, including three gun-control measures and a doubling of the state's renewable-energy mandate on rural consumers.
"We agree that Colorado has a diverse political culture. The Governor has failed to recognize that diversity and has instead chosen to pander to the urban culture with which he is most familiar," said Mr. Hare in an email.
Mr. Hickenlooper, who served as the mayor of Denver before being elected governor in 2010, has taken a pounding in the polls since signing the gun-control and renewable-energy bills in the spring. Critics point out that he did not veto any of the legislature's bills, despite his reputation as a moderate.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday showed 48 percent of Colorado voters surveyed do not want to see him re-elected in 2014, compared with 45 percent who do. The survey also showed Mr. Hickenlooper in a statistical tie with former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo in a hypothetical matchup, with the Democratic governor leading by 46 to 45 percentage points.
Mr. Tancredo, who lost to Mr. Hickenlooper in 2010, and state Sen. Greg Brophy have announced they will run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
The governor's numbers represent a drop from June, when the same polling group found that 45 percent of voters favored a second term while 44 percent did not.
"A trend like that has got to be making Hickenlooper's political team reach for the Maalox right about now," said the conservative website Colorado Peak Politics.
The governor's ratings have waned as the 51st state movement has gained traction. Commissioners in Moffat County, another rural county located north of Denver, are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to join the 51st state movement.
In Morgan County, residents are expected to turn in petitions Monday asking the county commission to place the 51st state question on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Meanwhile, organizers are currently forming policy committees in anticipation of a Declaration Convention in January. Other ideas being floated include asking Wyoming to annex the northern Colorado counties and redrawing the Colorado state Senate seats to increase the representation of rural areas.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, declined to speculate on the annexation proposal in an email Friday.
"The country and our state face many significant challenges at this time. This discussion does not move us forward," said Mr. MacKay.
Mr. Hare, who sits on the Weld County Council, an elected watchdog panel, said he wasn't surprised by the response. "We would expect the Governor of Wyoming to be cautious at this point," he said.
"Any discussion of approaching Wyoming about annexation will be well thought out and well researched," Mr. Hare added. "We believe our best course of action is to form the 51st state and are focused on that. However, we owe it to the constituents of the counties that are participating to explore all options."
In his Saturday comments, Mr. Hickenlooper also said he was willing to listen to the concerns of rural Coloradans.
"If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive," he said. "But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening."
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