Northeastern Colorado Is Getting Ready to Secede

Matt Berman

In his last speech to the United States Senate, future short-lived President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis, D-Miss., held up the honor of secession. "This is done, not in hostility to others; not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit," Davis declared in January 1861, "but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children."

Nearly a dozen counties in northeastern Colorado are now ready to take on that high and solemn motive.

On Monday, the city commissioners of Colorado's Weld and Phillips counties voted to approve a ballot measure asking voters if they want to secede from Colorado and create a 51st state. The idea to split from Colorado, which began to take root at a June conference, could include several other counties in the north of the state. Three other counties have already approved the ballot question, and three more will vote on the issue this week.

After the vote, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway quoted Mahatma Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight for you, and then you win." Commission Chairman Bill Garcia, echoed a more recent leader before voting: "Si se puede—yes, we can." The Weld commissioners were unanimous in their decision to approve the ballot measure.

But why secede? Sean Conway got at this in a June interview on Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara on Colorado Public Television:

In the interview, Conway cited a general lack of support from the "extremely tone-deaf" state government in Denver, and the stark differences between the more agricultural northeastern Colorado and the "urban electorate." But the biggest issue, for Conway at least, is energy:

The oil and gas thing, is what really, I think, has been setting us off. Although the governor has done some good things in terms of oil and gas, he hasn't, I think, ceded to the environmental extremists out there … our very way of life is under attack.

The latest warning call is a possible fracking ban that has made it onto several ballots this year in the state. But those bans haven't really gotten support from the state government, with the state joining a suit against a ban that's already in effect in July and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) saying in February, "We've demonstrated again and again [that hydraulic fracturing] can be done safely," and that "we have no choice" but to sue any city and county that passes a ban." But the governor has been open to at least some compromise since then.

There's also, of course, some political issue here. Weld and Phillips counties voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 by a healthy margin, while the state went for Obama 51 percent to 46 percent. The three counties that have already approved the secession ballot measure and the three that will vote on it this week were also Romney territory.

"I know initially you look at this and you say, 'Secession? Creating your own new state? That kind of tends to be a little bit out there,'"Conway said. But he has some ideas for how to get support, particularly from Congress, which would have to sign off on a new state.

His big idea? Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico (or, Washington D.C.) gets admitted as a new state, that's a likely boost for Democrats. "You can almost make the argument that you're allowing two states in so you don't disrupt the percentages in terms of the United States Senate or House." So, really, forget 51 states. Think 52.