DENVER—Faced with declining poll numbers and a rural uprising, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper took aim over the weekend at the 51st state movement.
In his first remarks since eight rural counties agreed to place the statehood question on the November ballot, Hickenlooper said he believes the drive to split Colorado undermines the state’s diversity.
“There may be a political agenda behind secession I don’t get because when I think of Colorado, it means all of our diverse communities and people,” said Hickenlooper in a Saturday article in the Craig Daily Press.
Jeffrey Hare, spokesman for the 51st State Initiative, countered that the Democratic governor ignored rural communities earlier this year when he signed gun-control legislation and a doubling of the state’s renewable-energy mandate on rural consumers.
“We agree that Colorado has a diverse political culture. The Governor has failed to recognize that diversity and has instead chosen to pander to the urban culture with which he is most familiar,” said Hare in an email.
The rise of the 51st state movement comes as the governor’s poll numbers tumble in the aftermath of a contentious legislative session and his decision to grant a reprieve to Death Row inmate Nathan Dunlap.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found him running neck-and-neck with former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo in a hypothetical match-up at 46 to 45 percent.
Meanwhile, 48 percent of those polled said they did not want to see Hickenlooper reelected, while 45 percent said they did. That’s a reversal of Quinnipiac’s findings in June, when 45 percent said they wanted to see him seek a second term and 44 percent said they did not.
Commissioners in another four northern counties agreed last week to place the statehood question on the Nov. 5 ballot. The counties now slated to bring the issue before the voters are Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Yuma and Weld.
The Moffat County Commissioners are scheduled to consider the statehood issue at their meeting Tuesday, while supporters in Morgan County are expected to turn in petitions Monday asking their commissioners to place the question on the ballot.
Meanwhile, Hare said organizers are in the process of policy committees in anticipation of a Declaration Convention in January. Other proposals under consideration include redrawing the state’s Senate districts to give rural counties greater representation, and asking Wyoming to annex parts of northern Colorado.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, declined to speculate on the annexation proposal in an email Friday.
“The country and our state face many significant challenges at this time. This discussion does not move us forward,” said MacKay.
Hare, who sits on the Weld County Council, an elected watchdog group, said he wasn’t surprised by the response. With its vast ranching and farming culture, Wyoming is seen as a state more in touch with the concerns of rural communities.
“We would expect the Governor of Wyoming to be cautious at this point. Any discussion of approaching Wyoming about annexation will be well thought out and well researched,” said Hare. “We believe our best course of action is to form the 51st State and are focused on that. However, we owe it to the constituents of the counties that are participating to explore all options.”
In his comments, Mr. Hickenlooper said he was willing to listen to the concerns of rural Coloradans.
“If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive,” he said. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”
So far Tancredo, who lost as a third-party candidate to Hickenlooper in 2010, and state Sen. Greg Brophy have announced that they plan to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2014. Secretary of State Scott Gessler is also considering entering the race.