The secessionist movement in Colorado is reassessing — but not abandoning — its dream of forming a 51st state after voters in six of 11 rural counties rejected the proposal Tuesday.
"I think what happened last night is that we had a raging campfire, we had cold water thrown on it, but those coals are still red hot," Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said Wednesday.
Supporters of the 51st state measure launched their campaign in July in reaction to what they saw as a "war on rural Colorado," following the Democratic state Legislature's passage of bills restricting access to firearms and ammunition and doubling the renewable-energy mandate on rural areas.
Voters in five of the 11 counties did approve the resolution, which asked whether residents wanted to pursue the idea of creating a 51st state. On the plus side, the five counties are contiguous and located in the northeast corner of the state.
On the minus side, one of the counties voting against the measure was Weld County, the largest and most prosperous of the jurisdictions considering the formation of a new state. Without Weld and the other five counties that voted no, the 51st state drops from more than 300,000 to fewer than 25,000 residents.
Organizers are continuing to mine support for the effort from the state's other rural counties, but in the meantime, they're planning to make a push for increased representation in the state Legislature when it convenes in January.
At the top of their to-do list is rallying behind the so-called Phillips County initiative, which calls for the state Senate to include one senator from each of Colorado's 64 counties, instead of allocating seats by population.
Jeffrey Hare, a leader of the 51st State Initiative, said Colorado Counties Incorporated has already agreed to support the proposal to divvy up state Senate seats by county.
"We're looking at the glass half full instead of half empty," said Mr. Hare. "We've gone from 0 percent support in July to getting five counties to support this. That's a pretty good success rate in four months."
He chalked up the splintered election results to the short timetable. "Time was working against us from the beginning," said Mr. Hare. "It turns out a four-month window was too much of an obstacle in terms of educating voters and getting our message out."
The call for carving out a brand-new state may have also been a bit too drastic for some Coloradans. "I heard from voters in Weld County who said, 'You know, Sean, I just couldn't go there,'" said Mr. Conway.
As an elected commissioner, Mr. Conway said he will continue to look for ways to promote the concerns of rural Colorado while respecting the will of Weld County residents, who voted 56 to 44 percent against the 51st state resolution.
"The solution we were proposing was not the solution they wanted to the problem," he said. "But even if the initiative passed all 11 counties, the problem still exists. So what the voters are telling us is to go back to the drawing board and find a different solution."
Mr. Hare said a decision about the next step will be made after meetings with the movement's stakeholders, including residents of the counties that voted in favor of the resolution.
"We have kind of a mandate, so the question is, do we have enough of a mandate to proceed, or do we want to take a pause and wait for 2014?" said Mr. Hare.
However, the movement's organizers decide to proceed, they agree on one thing: The urban-rural disconnect driving the push for a 51st state hasn't gone away.
"I believe this is the beginning of the discussion, not the end of the discussion," said Mr. Conway.
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