As a sign of just how divisive the recently ended Colorado legislative session has been, it may very well result in a literal division of the state.
As many as eight counties composing the rural, oil and gas-rich northeast corner of the state are pursuing a plan to cut ties with a capital city they no longer feel represents their interests and come together as the 51st state in the country: North Colorado.
“We’re actually going to pursue it,” said Weld County Commissioner Douglas Rademacher, a farmer whose jurisdiction is spearheading the effort. “Frankly, we’ve been ignored in northeastern Colorado now for the last, going on eight years with the current administration in Denver.”
“Frankly, we see no option,” he said. “We are going to move forward.”
Rademacher cited numerous examples of how Denver politicians are out of touch with rural Colorado, from passing tough new gun laws — “that gun legislation really pissed a lot of people off in Weld County,” he said — to trying to clamp down on companies that extract natural gas through fracking.
But the final straw, he said, was Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature on Wednesday of Senate Bill 252 requiring rural electrical cooperatives to double to 20 percent the amount of renewable energy in their portfolios by 2020.
“It’s a death by a thousand cuts, but the straw that finally broke the back was the governor signed 252 yesterday, which puts another huge impact on rural Colorado to meet these unrealistic deadlines and mandates for renewable energy,” he said. “And yet, the major population centers don’t have to abide by it. There’s a hypocrisy going on in Denver that’s just driving us crazy.”
Rademacher said a theoretical North Colorado could also include counties in neighboring states like Kansas and Nebraska, some of which he said have expressed interest in joining the effort. He said there was also serious talk among the county commissioners about asking a neighboring state to annex their territory — Rademacher said Wyoming would be the obvious choice.
In the end, it was decided that self-representation was the most appealing course, even though Rademacher admits that forming a new state will be difficult. The last time a state was formed from another was when West Virginia gained sovereignty from Virginia in 1863.
“Nevertheless, they were all done for the same reason, lack of representation,” he said. “And that’s where we’re at.”
“Frankly, I think we’re ready to cut and go.”
It may be easier said than done. The rules for creating new states are outlined in Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which require the approval of the existing state’s legislature and Congress.
Each upstart county plans to let its residents’ vote on the idea, which Rademacher said they want to do at the first opportunity, even though the deadline for questions to appear on the November ballot is Aug. 1.
If the votes pass, the legislature and the governor would then have to petition Congress to allow for the formation of a new state. Rademacher thinks getting the legislature to do so will be the biggest hurdle.
“I don’t think they’ll let us go,” he said, pointing to the region’s rich oil and gas deposits and the agricultural industry that contributes substantially to Colorado’s economy.
U.S. history is filled with failed attempts at new states. According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Constitution Center, it’s been tried at least 75 times and been successful only five — Vermont split from New York, Kentucky from Virginia, Tennessee from North Carolina, Maine from Massachusetts, and West Virginia from Virginia.
The most recent attempt to form a new state was in 2011, when residents of Pima County, Ariz., tried to break out on their own to distance themselves from the politics of Maricopa County.
Rademacher said he’s heard from non-contiguous counties in Colorado about if and how they could also join the effort. But he said the territory of wannabe North Colorado at least has to share a border with other breakaway-minded counties.
“We can’t build a highway to heaven,” he said.
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