DENVER–There’s North Dakota and South Dakota, so why not North Colorado?
Some county commissioners, alarmed by what they describe as the state legislature’s war on rural Colorado, are hatching a plan to create a 51st state made up of as many as 10 northern Colorado counties.
And they’re serious. “This is for real,” said Weld County commissioner Sean Conway. “This has been building for several months. We’ve had citizens coming to our hearings for months asking us to please do something.”
He said it wasn’t just Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signing of a host of anti-rural bills, ranging from gun-control laws to the doubling of the renewable-energy mandate on rural communities. It was the way the Democratic governor and legislature dismissed the concerns of those living outside the metropolitan Denver area.
“They treat us as if we don’t exist,” said Conway. “It’s not like we didn’t try to engage the legislature–it’s that we were ignored over and over again.”
What helped pushed rural commissioners into action was this week’s Colorado Counties Incorporated’s spring meeting in Keystone. During the meeting, Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 252, the green-energy mandate, and the group received a legislative update from House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder).
“Dickey Lee Hullinghorst told us, ‘If you liked this legislative session, you’re going to love the next one,’” said Conway. “We were like, ‘Holy moley.’ People were literally gasping.”
To create a new state, each county commission would need refer measures to the November ballot asking voters whether to pursue the creation of a separate state with the General Assembly. If the voters approve, the counties would then ask the governor and state legislature to petition Congress.
It’s been done before, just not in 150 years. Five states–Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia–split off from larger states, the most recent being West Virginia, which detached from Virginia in 1863.
“Yes, it’s been 150 years, but I would say yes, we didn’t have a president impeached between Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but that didn’t make the laws governing impeachment any less relevant,” said Conway.
Not surprisingly, the idea was greeted by a burst of smirking on social media, where the commissioners were accused of overreacting to this year’s activist Democratic legislative session.
“Utter absurdity!” said former House Speaker Terrance Carroll (D-Denver) on Twitter.
Liberals offered tongue-in-cheek suggestions on Twitter for names for the state, including Fracktopia, Tancredonia, Weldorado and Brophystan.
“Call us quaint, but we’re shocked to see elected county commissioners seriously talking about such a patently ridiculous idea,” said a Thursday post on liberal website ColoradoPols.
At the center of the effort is Weld County, with its 300,000 residents and booming oil-and-gas economy. County commissioners Doug Rademacher and Mike Freeman joined Conway in supporting the concept Thursday in a meeting with the editorial board of the Greeley Tribune.
While Conway is a Republican, he says, “We have Democratic Party commissioners supporting us. It’s not a partisan issue.”
The commissioners said they planned to hold public meetings on the proposal before submitting ballot language by Aug. 1. Officials from another eight to 10 rural counties have expressed interest in the idea, said Conway.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner issued a statement to the Tribune saying he understood the concerns driving talk of a new state while stopping short of endorsing the concept.
“The people of rural Colorado are mad, and they have every right to be,” said Gardner. “The governor and his Democrat colleagues in the statehouse have assaulted our way of life, and I don’t blame these people one bit for feeling attacked and unrepresented by the leaders in our state.”