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GREELEY, Colo. – A county in Colorado that was immortalized in the novel and 1978 miniseries “Centennial” once again could achieve fame as it finds itself in a unique position among America’s counties – considering a bid to become the 51st state.
Weld County is one of the nation’s largest counties, and at nearly 3,000 square miles it is larger than the combined land areas of Rhode Island, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The county was also immortalized in James Michener’s “Centennial,” a novel about a fictitious town whose history mirrored the history of the state.
County officials have made national news several times in recent months for their strong stand for constitutional rights including the Second Amendment. However, following a particularly contentious legislative session where Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature as well as the governorship, the divide has gotten so great that county commissioners are seriously entertaining asking voters to decide if they want to secede and form the state of North Colorado.
Bill Garcia, chairman of the Weld County Commissioners, told WND the idea of forming a separate state came from residents and the commissioners are seriously considering it.
“We were getting multiple comments from our citizens suggesting we form our own state, then later we went to a meeting with other commissioners and we began asking them if they were hearing the same thing from their residents,” Garcia said. “We were shocked to hear that they were getting the same thing from their voters as well. At that time we decided this was something we need to be looking into.”
Commissioners from Weld and other counties will be holding a public meeting this Monday in Akron to discuss what they have been hearing from their constituents and what steps to take going forward.
Garcia said it is important to get the issue before the voters to see if there is sufficient support for a statehood movement. “So far the phone calls we have been getting have been 11 to 1 in support of statehood,” Garcia said.
If officials from Weld and other counties wanted to go forward the issue could be on the ballot this year.
“We have until the end of July to get it on the ballot this year,” Garcia explained. “This would be a vote of residents of those counties wanting to form their own state. The following year the state as a whole would vote on the issue, then we would petition Congress for statehood.”
If county residents were to pass a request for secession and statehood, even if legislators from the rest of the state were to refuse to allow the rest of the state to vote on the issue, they still have another option available to them.
“In Colorado we have a fairly easy petition process compared to other states,” Garcia said. “Even if legislators from the urban counties refused to give us a hearing we can gather signatures and force the issue to be brought before all the state’s voters.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s signature on energy legislation that some have said was intended to punish rural Colorado by requiring rural electric cooperatives derive 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Many of rural electric utilities use hydropower, however the Democrats in the legislature deliberately excluded it as counting toward the 20 percent goal.
The bill was seen as being an attack on the oil and gas industry, which is thriving in Weld County.
Among the bills passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature were a series of radical bills that included legalizing actions by abortionists such as Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who was recently convicted of murdering several babies. Officials also passed a series of gun control bills that among other things outlawed the sale of nearly all new gun magazines in the state. Those with existing magazines are breaking the law if they do something as innocuous as handing to a friend to help clear a jam.
Gov. John Hickenlooper also has gone on record as expressing disdain for rural Coloradans in his state. During his 2010 campaign for governor against WND columnist and former congressman Tom Tancredo, he accused rural citizens of having “backwards thinking” when it comes to traditional values.
“I think a couple things, I mean, you know, the tragic death of Matthew Shepard occurred in Wyoming. Colorado and Wyoming are very similar,” Hickenlooper said. “We have some of the same, you know, backwards thinking in the kind of rural Western areas you see in, you know, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico… at the same time, Denver has, I think, one of the more robust, politically active gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities, really, in the United States.”
After this year’s attacks on constitutional rights and rural lifestyles, Hickenlooper essentially said rural residents just need to get over it and change their lifestyle.
“This is an urban issue which is going to require some inconvenience from rural people. They’re going to have to change their clip more often if they’re shooting varmints or if they’re at a shooting facility,” the governor said during an appearance on the Mike Rosen Show.
While the possibility of counties breaking away and forming their own state has been ridiculed by some, another movement 70 years ago nearly accomplished the same thing.
In 1941, several counties in southern Oregon and northern California began a movement to secede and form the new state of Jefferson. However, the movement stalled following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Some residents in this area still consider themselves to be citizens of Jefferson.
While the Jefferson movement may have failed, if Weld County were to go ahead and lead a movement for a new state it has several characteristics that help make a strong case for secession from Colorado.
Some of the fervent opposition to the Democrats’ liberal agenda this year came from legislators from Weld County.
A recent column in the Denver Post by Tim Hoover note that among the top five most conservative members in each chamber, half of them were from Weld County.
Topping the list of state senators is Vicki Marble from Fort Collins, whose district covers parts of Weld, Larimer and Broomfield counties. Greeley Sen. Scott Renfroe is also on the list. On the House side Lori Saine from Dacono came in second followed by Steve Humphrey and Perry Buck.
“That a majority of Colorado Republicans with the most conservative voting records are from Weld County speaks volumes about our county,” Saine said. “This shows that the Democrats from areas such as Boulder and Denver really are out of touch with the rural values we espouse here.”
Garcia said since they have come out on this issue they have received calls from counties in other states asking commissioners about the issue.
“We have received phone calls from citizens in the Nebraska panhandle complaining about how they are having the same issue with Omaha that we are having with Denver, Garcia said. “Then last week we talked to people in New Mexico who are interested in part of peeling part of the state off and joining with Texas.
“In each of these cases rural residents are being disenfranchised by the populated urban areas of their state who are attempting to pass regulations that may make sense in a city but are not necessary in rural areas.”
Some have suggested the recent secession talk is simply the result of sour grapes over a single legislative session under Democrat control. However, the reality is disputes between officials in Denver and Weld has been simmering for years.
Social services are mandated by the state and frequently come with strings attached. Over 15 years ago the county told the it state wanted to cut services to bring it under budget and if not the state should run the programs. The state Supreme Court said the state had the right to force counties to provide services even if it meant they had to run a deficit.
Also, Denver has long had a smog problem, resulting in it frequently having difficulty meeting the EPA’s clean air standards. By contrast, Weld County frequently tests below the EPA standards.
But government officials forced county residents to submit to costly vehicle emission testing similar to residents in Denver. When the commissioners protested saying it was unfair to require residents to pay for the tests when the county was already in compliance with the EPA, lawmakers responded by saying Weld residents needed to do their part to help curb pollution in Denver and it was unfair to exempt rural Coloradans. Officials also claimed Weld County was partly to blame for Denver’s smog problem because of the large number of cows kicking up dust which made its way to Denver.
Taking a strong stand last year Weld County became the first county to place “In God We Trust” prominently on the county seal. A month prior to the county’s adoption of the phrase, Evans, a city in the county, became the first city to also adopt the phrase.
The county also stands out among most other counties in the state in that it was honored with an award from the Independence Institute in 2010 for having no long-term debt. The distinction of being debt-free is even more shocking when laid beside other debt figures for the rest of the state.
A 2010 report entitled “Levels of Long-term Debt within Colorado’s Local Government” reveals that county officials have a much better handle on their finances than other counties in the state. Among the report’s findings were:
- Colorado long-term debt for cities, counties and school districts is nearly $31.5 billion, or $6,264 per capita.
- Over the last two decades, local debt has grown nearly six times faster than the population.
- Over nearly the last two decades, county debt expenditures have grown 1,029 percent.
- Over the last two decades, school district debt has grown 244 percent
To put the accomplishment of being debt free in perspective, the city and county of Denver currently has $8.6 billion of long-term debt.
While liberal groups frequently claim that the way to balance state and federal budgets is to raise taxes, Weld officials apparently never got the memo. The county has no sales tax. In spite of this the county is not only debt-free but has a $28 million rainy day fund with another $50 million surplus in various other budget categories.
Following the passage of gun control laws that vice-president Joe Biden has said Obama wanted to use as model legislation for the rest of the country, Weld County Sheriff John Cooke responded by filing a lawsuit against the state saying the laws were unconstitutional and unenforceable.
County officials passed a resolution in support of Cooke and then later passed another saying the county would not pass any type of law infringing on its residents’ right to bear arms.
Colorado’s constitution has very strong protections for the rights of its residents to own and keep firearms, stating, “The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question.”
During the current session Democrats passed a law repealing all criminal statutes for abortion, including those actions similar to the work of abortionists such as Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who was recently convicted of murdering several babies.
By contrast, Weld County commissioners passed legislation prohibiting the offering of Plan B at any of the county’s health clinics funded by the federal Title X women’s health program. The commissioners said their reasoning was because the abortifacient could result in the abortion of a fertilized egg.
“Rural residents are tired of being dictated to by urban legislators who have no idea about their lifestyle or their needs,” Garcia said. “Some of these laws may make sense in a city but are not necessary in rural areas. The state should allow us to make our own decisions. We know what is best for our own people, not some bureaucrats in Denver.”