Among other things, it was an effort aimed at protecting rural northeast Colorado and its thriving agriculture and oil and gas industries.
But this week, voters in Weld County, where the effort was speaheaded, decided against secession and the creation of a 51st state, defeating the initiative 57 percent to 43 percent.
The same took place in other rural counties where the measure was on the ballot.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he respects the decision of residents who voted down the 51st state initiative by double digits, but he said the dialogue regarding rural counties being heard has just begun.
“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, Colo. “The (disconnect) problem still exists. 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.”
Weld County was one of 10 northeastern Colorado counties asking voters if they would like to secede from Colorado and form a new state. Moffat County, in northwest Colorado, joined the other 10 counties.
After four community meetings around the county with Weld residents, the Weld commissioners chose to put the 51st proposal on the ballot and other communities followed.
Of the 11 counties voting, six (Logan, Elbert, Sedgwick, Lincoln, Moffat and Weld, which is by far the most populated) voted down the 51st state proposal and five (Phillips, Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Yuma and Washington) voted for it.
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said a lot of good work was done pursuing secession and the effort sent a message in just four months.
“We will regroup and work with other counties throughout the state of Colorado. I still think there was a message that was sent,” said Kirkmeyer. “I still think there was a lot of folks who said they feel disconnected from their state government, and that we need to look for some other answers. There still is a disconnect out there.”
Conway said the record turnout in an off-year election was wonderful.
“We will be working with our residents and other counties and our legislators to try and come up with a solution. 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.”
The complaints from the 11 counties came as a result of new gun regulations, proposed oil and gas legislation and a renewable energy bill for rural electric companies that commissioners said showed lawmakers in the Denver area weren’t listening to those in the rural counties.
Kirkmeyer said the proposal kick-started the discussion that government is supposed to be about compromise, cooperation and communication.
“If this turns things around and opens doors and people start working together more, I think all of that is a good thing,” Kirkmeyer said.
Steve Mazurana, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Northern Colorado, spoke out against the measure at a 51st state forum. He said after the votes were counted that the people who want to remain in Colorado have spoken.
“They decided they’re better off staying in the state of Colorado rather than going into the great unknown of the process of becoming another state,” Mazurana said. “I think that’s wise because the costs outweigh the benefits.”
Mazurana said county commissioners have job responsibilities, and there are things that they should be doing and things they shouldn’t be doing.
“There are things somewhere in the middle of where it’s allowable, but I think it’s probably pretty clear under any state constitution that part of the job of a county commissioner is not to be the spearhead for seceding from the state,” Mazurana said. “That, I think, is not ethically responsible. I think if commissioners in Weld County feel that they need to be a part of another state, then they should resign their office and carry on as a private citizen because the only way you put that on the constitutional ballot is to go to a vote of all the people of Colorado, not just a handful of counties.”
Voters exiting the ballot drop-off site at the Windsor Community Recreation Center were mixed on the 51st state vote.
Kim Larson of Eaton, who is a Colorado native, voted against the 51st state proposal.
“My view is that to become a state involves a lot more than it would be worth, and I’m proud to be part of the state of Colorado,” Larson said. “The amount of change that has to happen. They have to think of school districts, about disaster relief if we have a flood again. To create a state that would have that type of funding, I can’t even imagine how much they would have to tax residents to create this small state that would be completely self reliant. Not to mention water sources. We don’t have an independent water source in Weld County. All of our water comes from other parts of the state.”
Jeff Dykstra of Windsor voted against the proposal, but saw both sides of the argument.
“I think it’s a great way to bring attention to the politicians to maybe give a little more focused attention on us here in northern Colorado, but I’m not sure that separating from the state and creating another state is the right answer,” Dykstra said. “I can see both sides of it.” ❖