Reality rains on secessionist parade

Representatives of the 10 northeastern Colorado counties who gathered Monday in Akron to discuss the possibility of creating a 51st state apparently reached the same conclusion as many observers: The legal and political obstacles for seceding from Colorado are nearly insurmountable.

The idea of secession was floated last month by the Weld County commissioners because, they said, the Democrat-controlled and urban-heavy state Legislature ignored the concerns of rural Colorado on issues ranging from gun control to oil and gas rules to alternative energy.

Instead of secession, according to news accounts, the participants at the Monday meeting shifted their talks to ways to increase rural representation at the state Legislature. And this time they want to include western Colorado in the discussions.

Well, bully for them. We would be happy to see more Western Slope representatives at the state Capitol. The problem is, the plan discussed Monday by the people from northeastern Colorado faces its own constitutional and political challenges.

The proposal is to have members of the Colorado House of Representatives or the state Senate elected one from each county. Currently, legislative districts are based on population, so one representative or senator in rural areas may serve a number of counties, while densely populated urban counties have multiple representatives and senators.

Population-based districts follow a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1964. So, to implement the plan discussed Monday, the Supreme Court would have to reverse its earlier decision — a long shot, at best.

Furthermore, the rural counties would have to persuade voters in urban counties to give up some of their political advantage and vote for a ballot measure to change the way state legislative districts are designed. That, too, will be a difficult proposition to sell.

The secession idea lost support because most of the county officials at the Monday meeting recognized the political obstacle — convincing their constituents, the state Legislature and Congress to approve it — would have been very challenging. On top of that, they recognized the costs a new state would have to incur to provide highways and other infrastructure.

We certainly understand the frustration of officials in northeastern Colorado who believe the Legislature is deaf to their concerns. It often seems that way to people on this side of the Continental Divide, as well.

But secession isn’t the solution, for so many reasons. Changing the way legislative districts are established sounds promising, but it has its own problems. More important for rural Coloradans is to elect talented, effective legislators of any party who can forge coalitions with lawmakers from other parts of the state, including metro areas.


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