Will “North Colorado” become the nation’s 51st state?
An official in a Colorado county at the heart of a state secession movement says support for the idea is gaining considerable momentum.
“We are now getting support from counties on the western slope; this is a game-changer,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told WND.
“If this thing continues to gather momentum, we may end up voting Denver and Boulder off the island.”
On Tuesday, voters in 11 Colorado counties will vote on a ballot initiative asking if they want their county commissioners to pursue options to become part of a new state.
The vote comes amid long-simmering disputes between the rural and urban residents of the state. The tensions ratcheted up during the last legislative session when Democrats, who controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governorship, pushed through a series of radical bills on a wide range of left-leaning causes. They included same-sex civil unions, abortion, gun control and an energy bill that placed special renewable energy requirements on rural residents while exempting municipal entities from the same rules.
While 11 counties are voting on the measure, Weld County has become the public face of the issue. One reason is due to its size. The county is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It also has no long-term debt and no sales tax.
Following the recent floods that devastated the region, Weld County was able to quickly get back on its feet by performing many of the road repairs using its own funds.
At a recent debate over the secession issue, Weld Commissioner Sean Conway said opponents are refusing to see the bigger picture of what is happening.
“I think there’s a serious case of denial going on here,” Conway said. “For the first time two state senators, including the president of the state Senate, getting recalled; 55 bipartisan elected sheriffs are suing the governor over recently enacted legislation; and you have the county commissioners in 11 counties saying, you know what, maybe we’re better off going on our own. If that’s not a serious disconnect I don’t know what is.”
As if Weld County voters didn’t have enough reasons to consider the secession initiative, state officials have recently decided to take a stretch of I-25 that runs through their county and designate one of the existing lanes as a toll lane.
Conway said the fact that officials would even think about doing this to Weld County shows, despite claims to the contrary, they’re still insensitive to the vast political divide between the rural and urban areas of the state.
“Where do they put the toll road first?” he asked. “This would be the first section of interstate highway that was originally built as a general purpose lane that is being made into a managed lane. Why us? What makes it so special that we get this great opportunity to pay for this road twice?”
While much of the media attention has focused on the northeastern counties voting on the issue, there are also several western slope counties that have also expressed support for a 51st state.
A map of counties in Colorado by the 51st state initiative shows most of the counties are either voting on the issue or have expressed interest in the idea. On the map, the counties voting on the issue are in green. Those whose commissioners are considering placing it on the ballot are in yellow. The counties shaded in blue are areas where residents are in the early stages of pressuring their commissioners on the issue. The counties in red are the only ones that have declared they’re not interested.
Since the movement began, the commissioners and residents in the counties have been mocked and ridiculed across the nation by members of the media and liberal pundits. One of the biggest claims used by opponents is that the rural residents are not thinking the issue through. If they were to succeed, they argue, the new state would not have access to water, a precious commodity for agriculture in the counties wanting to form a new state.
The Greeley Tribune wrote that the new state of North Colorado would have to negotiate a water compact with Colorado, which could take years to sort out and cost millions of dollars in litigation.
However, Conway said there have been recent events that he calls a game-changer in the water issue and ultimately the whole 51st state idea.
“I believe if the 51st state ends up including some of these western slope counties that are interested in joining us, such as Grant County, Jackson County, Garfield County, Roult County, Mesa County, Delta and Montrose County, then that is a game-changer in terms of the water issue,” he said.
Conway explained that the metropolitan areas brought about the water issue to drive a wedge between the state’s western and eastern residents.
“We have traditionally had this western and eastern slope fight over water,” he said. “That was started by the Denver water board years ago by the metropolitan areas going over to Western Colorado and building water projects like Dillon reservoir and other water projects to create this east-west divide.”
Conway added: “If these western counties were to join us, you would begin to defuse the western and eastern slope fight because most of the water we’re using isn’t for municipal use like most of the water projects in Western Colorado. We use it for agriculture. Because of that, there is a community of interest between all of the counties looking into the 51st state issue that gets created.”
He said the new state would have the upper hand in the water debate.
“If we can all come together, we would control the water, not Colorado, which would primarily be the metropolitan areas that would be dependent on us,” he explained.
Conway said he has talked to multiple water attorneys who have confirmed his assessment. Opponents appear prepared to challenge the measure in court if it passes. At a recent meeting of the Weld County Council, a body to provide oversight of the commissioners, attorneys attempted to argue the commissioners did not have the authority to query voters on the issue.
Robert Ruyle, a Greeley water attorney, argued that only the people of Colorado have the right to “alter their form of government.” Therefore, the commissioners have no right to advocate for the issue while in their official capacity. He went on to argue that secession is not a legitimate function of county government.
However, Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker countered that the county’s charter as a home-rule county allows it to place an issue on the ballot without restrictions.
Conway asked: If secession is so wrong, then why did the Founding Fathers allow for it in the Constitution?
“Why on Earth would our founders put this in our Constitution if they didn’t understand when they wrote that wonderful document that times of political disenfranchisement would occur?” he asked. “We see that through our nation’s history. There are five states – Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia – that became a state through this process.”
Throughout the whole process, the commissioners have stood firm in the face of ridicule and fierce criticism from opponents, saying they are doing this because they want to follow the wishes of their constituents.
“When we first began this, I received a phone call from a 30-year-old young man who owns a company in Windsor,” Conway said. “He said, ‘Commissioner, thank you for giving me hope. I had just about lost all hope. I was disillusioned, I was frustrated and angry, and you have now given me hope that an elected officials will do what they say. You also showed us that you care about us and are willing to put your neck on the line to do what is right.’”
Conway said: “The opponents don’t understand why we’re doing this because they haven’t opened their ears. They haven’t gotten out of their comfort zone.”