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Urban-Rural Rift in Colorado Results in Secession Vote

Come November, 11 of Colorado's 64 counties, mostly in northeast, will vote to form a new state. Jack Healy explores what's behind the 51st State Initiative, what set it off, as well as other secession movements, mostly by rural areas in the U.S.
October 10, 2013, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Seven additional counties could possibly join the movement, according to the map of The 51st State Initiative. If not secession, two alternative goals would be additional representation in the state senate or annexation by Wyoming.

Secession movements are hardly new - see our Sept. 6 post of the latest development in the long-standing effort to form the state of Jefferson in northern California and southern Oregon and NPR's "Beyond 50: American States That Might Have Been" on Michael J. Trinklein's book on the topic. The last successful effort resulted in the formation of West Virginia in 1863, writes Healy.

While the break-away movement to form "New Colorado" has been simmering for a long time, it was the recent gun regulations prompted by the mass shootings last year in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater and a Newton, Conn. school, the same ones that caused a successful recall last month of two state senators, that truly inspired it.

Urban-rural, liberal-conservative divides lie at the heart of the secession movement, yet there are glaring inconsistencies. Healy quotes Lyle Miller, who owns the convenience store in Cheyenne Wells where he wrote the article.

"I would’ve never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal.  I’m afraid for my grandchildren. I want them to have the same heritage I had".

Healy points to demographic statistics that indicate that Miller's grandchildren are more likely to leave Cheyenne County than stay, with the population reduced almost 50% from it's peak of 3,700 people, notwithstanding the low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in the county due to thriving agriculture and oil fields.

The last two decades have brought sharp population declines as children moved away and the descendants of homesteading families died off. The county’s population is now 1,870, about one resident per square mile.

Jeffrey Hare, a leader of the 51st State Initiative, states, "What we’re attempting to do is restore liberty. People think this is a radical idea,” he said. Yet recent state laws that have increased liberty, such as legalizing marijuana and gay civil unions do not appear to be welcomed changes.

Should the votes succeed, two additional hurdles would await. "(T)he state must then vote to allow them to leave. After that, Congress would have to agree to admit a new state", writes Healy. However, the movement appears to be reaping political gains as Democratic governor, John W. Hickenlooper, who runs for reelection next year, "has already vowed to chart a more moderate course when the legislature comes back into session," writes Healy.

UPDATE (11/19/2013): In five of the 11 counties where a measure to secede from Colorado was on the Nov. 5 ballot, voters said "yes"; the remaining six voted 'no'. The urban-rural divide was as the heart of the "51st State Initiative". The ballot results are described in greater detail here by Monte Whaley of The Denver Post.

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Published on Wednesday, October 9, 2013 in The New York Times - U.S.
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