Voters in 11 Colorado counties will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether they want to pursue secession from the state. Ten of those counties, including Weld, are in the northeast corner of the state and the plan there is to form a new state of North Colorado, while Moffat County in the northwest corner wants to become the Wyoming panhandle.
If this seems like an extraordinary way to pursue a region’s political grievances, that’s because it is. No area has successfully removed itself from an existing state since West Virginia split from Virgina at the height of the American Civil War. Secessionists, led by the Weld County Commission, say the state Capitol in Denver is under the thumb of urban legislators, while their own interests are being ignored. They are particularly unhappy with new gun control laws and rural renewable energy requirements.
The Weld County Council, which oversees the commission, approved the commission’s pursuit of the 51st state initiative, in a murky proceeding described by The Greeley Tribune as “legally questionable.” One member of the county council is none other than Jeffrey Hare, who helped organize the 51st state initiative and serves as its spokesman. Conflict of interest, anyone?
Of course, not everyone is in favor of leaving. Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, a former Republican president of the Colorado Senate, and Weld District Attorney Ken Buck have both spoken against secession, as have Greeley business leaders and others. The Tribune has spoken against it editorially. If the protest vote does succeed, what then? Secession would have to be approved by the Colorado General Assembly and both houses of the U.S. Congress.
I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed census, budget, crime and voter records to develop profiles of a new 51st state and a truncated Colorado. The report found that Colorado might be slightly better off economically if the 11 counties departed, in that the state spends more in the counties than it receives in return from taxes, fees and other revenues. But Colorado would lose much of its oil and gas production and much of its best farmland. Plus, it would end up with a very strange looking map.