DENVER—The 51st state movement splintered Tuesday as voters in 11 rural counties divided over whether to pursue the idea of forming a new state.
Election results showed the resolutions winning approval in five counties—Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Phillips, Washington and Yuma—but going down to defeat in the other six: Elbert, Lincoln, Logan, Moffat, Sedgwick and Weld.
Voters in Weld County rejected the measure by a margin of 57 to 43 percentage points. The resolution had its biggest win in Yuma County with 81 percent in favor—but that was with 70 people voting, according to unofficial election results.
The loss of Weld County comes as a potentially deal-breaking blow to the movement, given that Weld County Commissioners Sean Conway and Barbara Kirkmeyer were among the proposal’s most visible proponents.
Weld is also the largest and most prosperous of the 11 counties with the resolution on the ballot. Without Weld, estimates on the proposed new state’s economic viability and population become drastically reduced.
“You have to respect the voters’ decision. Weld County commissioners will not pursue a 51st state, but we will pursue other options that I think address the problem,” Conway said from a Weld County election watch party in Fort Lupton, according to the Greeley Tribune.
“The (disconnect) problem still exists,” said Conway. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to continue this dialogue which began in June to address the disconnect between rural and urban communities in Colorado, and come together to try and find a solution to addressing that problem.”
The movement came in response to the perceived urban-rural divide during the 2013 state legislative session, which saw the Democratic majority approve bills to restrict access to firearms and ammunition and double the renewable-energy standard on rural areas.
Rural lawmakers accused legislators in the liberal Denver-Boulder corridor of running roughshod over the concerns of those living in agricultural communities, dubbing it the “war on rural Colorado.”
Even though the movement lost six counties, supporters said Tuesday’s vote was nonetheless valuable in that it focused attention on unrest in Colorado’s disaffected rural communities.
The effort gained national attention and prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to promise to listen more closely to the concerns of rural Coloradans.
“We will be working with our residents and other counties and our legislators to try and come up with a solution,” said Conway. “When we began this in June, the governor didn’t even recognize that there was a divide. Many legislators didn’t understand that there was a divide. Today, everybody’s talking about it. I think what we’ve done in beginning this dialogue is a very, very positive thing.”
Supporters have discussed other plans to increase the clout of rural Colorado, such as by redrawing the state Senate districts to give each county a senator.