Sympathy brews for idea of new state
If northeastern Colorado wants to split off from the Centennial State, it had better take plenty of water because there won’t be any coming from the West Slope, officials said.
Still, the move by the Weld County Commission to investigate secession has the sympathy of West Slope officials, many of whom share Weld County’s beefs with the Legislature.
But beefs go only so far. Northeastern Colorado also has earned West Slope ire over the years for its thirst and secession could close the tap on water from the Colorado River Basin.
“We have a prohibition against exporting water out of state,” Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District said. “So from that perspective, I say good riddance to them.”
On the other hand, though, the rift shows that northeastern Colorado is getting a taste of the treatment that has long fostered discontent among West Slope officeholders and others.
Western Colorado’s secession was twice floated by a Democrat, Rep. T. John Baer of Loma, on two occasions in the late-1960s and early-1970s.
“He wanted to split off the parts of Colorado and Utah that were being ignored,” said former state Sen. Tillie Bishop, a Grand Junction Republican who served 28 years in the Legislature.
Much the same dynamic is in play now.
“There is definitely a feeling in western Colorado that rural areas were totally, unabashedly ignored in this legislative session,” Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the West Slope advocacy group, said.
No one, however, has gone as far as Baer did decades ago or as far as Weld County officials say they are wiling to go now.
Larry Clever, who deals routinely with officials from around the state as the manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, however, has gone so far as to write up a “divorce agreement” that would allow the Front Range metro area to form a new state, so long as it keeps Denver and Boulder.
“We will throw in Aspen if you want them,” Clever’s agreement says.
And Clever acknowledges that some bonds endure. While Front Range residents would have to pay for out-of-state hunting and fishing licenses, “We hope that you will continue to share the Broncos, Rockies and the Avalanche,” Clever wrote.
Otherwise, however, the last election and legislative session have “made us realize that we want and need a divorce. I know that we have tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but, sadly, this relationship has clearly run its course.”
He didn’t put it in the agreement, but “I’d like to keep all the water that originates on this side of the hill,” Clever said.
Though Clever’s divorce agreement has a tongue-in-cheek tone, state Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, said there is real animosity brewing among rural legislators.
“With almost every aspect of peoples’ lives in rural Colorado attacked by (Gov. John Hickenlooper) and the legislature I can only imagine the blowback that will take place in the future,” Scott wrote in an email. “The bills passed were thoughtless and nothing more than agenda-driven to satisfy groups in Boulder and Denver where the gov’s power base is located. 2014 should be a heck of a ride.”
As to whether this issue is more spectating than seceding, Scott said, “I have heard chatter, but no serious effort that I am aware of ... yet.”
State Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and state Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, said they’ve heard little in the way of outright advocacy for secession, though Wright noted he’s seen two emails, “one of them saying that the people of Weld County were not alone.”
Secession from a state is a difficult proposition, but it’s not unprecedented.
Vermont seceded from New York in 1791 and Kentucky seceded from Virginia in 1792. Tennessee separated from North Carolina in 1796 and Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820.
The most recent secession was that of West Virginia from Virginia in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, according to the National Constitution Center.
Voters in the seceding counties would have to approve such a move, as would the very institution that is the focus of much of the ire, the Legislature, and Congress.
Assuming each of those hurdles could be cleared, then the costs start to pile up, Bishop said.
New boundaries would have to be drawn, a new capital designated, new government assembled and new laws adopted, Bishop said.
“I wish ‘em luck,” Bishop said of the northern Colorado counties. “They need to be careful that they might get what they’re asking.”