DENVER—The push for a 51st state received a boost Monday as the Weld County Commissioners agreed to ask voters whether to break from Colorado, bringing to four the number of counties jumping on the statehood movement.
The unanimous vote means the Weld County’s November ballot will include a referendum on whether to form a state tentatively named Northern Colorado. Three other counties have already agreed to place the question on their Nov. 5 ballots: Cheyenne, Sedgwick and Yuma.
The statehood movement comes in response to the Democratic state legislature’s aggressive 2013 liberal agenda, which included bills restricting firearms access and doubling the renewable energy mandate on rural consumers, later dubbed the “war on rural Colorado.”
“The concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored for years,” said Weld County commissioner chairman William Garcia in a statement. “The last session was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many people. They want change. They want to be heard.”
At least three more county commissions are expected to consider adding a 51st-state referendum to the November ballot. The item is on the agenda at this week’s commission meetings in Logan, Phillips and Washington counties, and scheduled for next week in Kit Carson County, said Jeffrey Hare, spokesman for the 51st State Initiative.
Hare says he expects more county commissions in Northern Colorado and even the Western Slope to consider placing the non-binding resolutions on their ballots, but “whether it’s 11 or 25, I don’t know yet.”
Forming a new state is tricky: Even if the ballot measures pass, the state legislature must agree to amend the state constitution to reconfigure Colorado’s borders. Then the legislature must refer the question to Congress, which would need a majority in both houses to approve a 51st state.
The procedure is laid out in Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Interestingly enough, the process doesn’t require the signature of the governor or president, said Hare.
Even so, achieving statehood requires clearing a high bar, which is why organizers are considering two alternative proposals. The first would have Wyoming annex Colorado’s rural north and northeastern counties.
The second would redraw the state legislature’s Senate districts so that each county would have one senator. That would bring the number of state senators from 35 to 64.
Hare, who sits on the Weld County Council, a government-oversight panel, said he expected to bring the proposal for more state Senate districts before the legislature in 2014, adding that the statehood and annexation issues may take more time.
“People are looking for hope because they feel like the government is out of control,” said Hare. “They feel kind of hopeless.”
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he believes the effort is already paying off, noting that Gov. John Hickenlooper launched his reelection campaign last week not in Denver, but on the Eastern Plains.
The governor said last week in his monthly radio interview with KOA-AM’s Mike Rosen that he would “work especially hard this next session to try and make sure we have a more balanced approach to all Colorado.”
Said Conway: “I think the long, hot summer in Colorado is yielding fruit. Not only have we been the recipients of monsoon rains, but there’s a healthy new respect for the contributions of rural Coloradans.”
A booming oil-and-gas and agricultural hub, Weld is the largest and wealthiest Colorado county to join the movement. The Greeley Tribune came out against the movement in an Aug. 7 editorial, “Time to drop 51st state idea.’
“While we understand and agree with the message commissioners are trying to send to Denver —rural counties feel disenfranchised–we think Weld residents would be better served if commissioners drop the 51st state idea and focus on engaging the state’s political leaders in a constructive dialogue that addresses their issues,” said the editorial.