If at first you don’t secede ... West Slope has seen the idea before
By Mary Louise Giblin Henderson
Conservative Republicans in Colorado and elsewhere proposing, in the wake of the November election, to secede from the United States may think their idea is an original one. But it isn’t.
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a Mesa County Democrat floated the same idea — not once but twice. State Rep. T. John Baer, a Loma farmer and ardent Democrat, was just an average legislator, but he was popular enough in his district, the western half of Mesa County, to be elected to several terms.
In Mesa County’s more Democratic-oriented history, he defeated strong Republican candidate Marietta Benge both in 1966 and 1968.
The reason Baer made his bid to separate western Colorado from the eastern half of the state has long been forgotten by most and buried in the minutiae of countless pages of past legislative activity. But, as I recall, he felt that eastern Colorado legislators were exerting too much power and ignoring the Western Slope.
Baer called a press conference about his plans to have western Cloprado secede, and I was dithering about attending, as I thought it was a silly idea. Since Baer held neither a leadership post nor an important committee chairmanship, I felt nothing mandated my attendance. But Gordon Gauss, the dean of the Capitol pressroom and a long-time Associated Press reporter, put me straight.
“He’s from your district, and he is your state representative,” Gauss lectured me. “You have to attend the press conference and send in a story.” He said he would cover the event because nothing big was happening in the Legislature at that time, and he thought a little light-hearted coverage was in order. His story would go out to newspapers, radio and television stations throughout the state.
Apparently the rest of the media folks agreed with Gauss, as The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, the AP, United Press International and a couple of radio and television stations showed up. Their stories were quirky and semi-serious, but Baer’s plan to divide Colorado, with western Colorado joining eastern Utah to form a new state, got good press play.
Later, as I recall, Baer and some other western Colorado legislators who had joined him introduced a joint Senate-House resolution, which had no legal effect but was merely an indication of their intent. If I remember right, it got lost in the shuffle of the final days of the Legislature, but Baer had had his 15 minutes of fame.
A few years later, some other perceived snub by Front Range legislators ticked Baer off again, and he called another press conference to announce his intent to try seceding once more.
Although Gauss had by that time retired from AP, I remembered his admonition and decided I was required to cover the conference.
Other reporters — most of whom had covered the original story and were still working in the Capitol Press Room — had different ideas. I checked around and discovered that they all had some vague excuses why they couldn’t attend. I didn’t want to be the lone reporter in that conference room, so began trying to drum up support.
I had absolutely no luck until I finally convinced Sue O’Brien, then a Denver radio reporter and later Gov. Dick Lamm’s press secretary and eventually a Denver Post editorial page editor, to accompany me. I wrote a brief story, and I think O’Brien mentioned it in her daily radio report.
But there was no statewide dissemination of the story, and it died a natural death from lack of publicity and general interest.
Proponents of the 2012 secession movement have been busy collecting signatures for the “We the People” website at the White House, which has pledged to review any petition that gathers at least 25,000 signatures.
There has been considerable skepticism about the viability of trying to secede. Some constitutional law scholars have argued that, while it would’t be impossible for a state to secede, to do so legally would entail implausible steps such as ratifying a constitutional amendment or passing a law redrawing national boundaries.
I have a strong feeling that the current attempts to secede will face the same relatively quick demise that Baer’s proposals did, despite the fact that the forces backing it are much more powerful than those of the Loma Democrat.
It will be interesting to find out.
Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.