Colorado's 51st-staters turn to legislation to fix urban-rural divide
Posted: 11/06/2013 06:08:53 PM MST6 comments
Updated: 11/07/2013 10:21:58 AM MST
Proponents of a failed move to secede from Colorado say they will now look to the legislature for help in giving their counties more political clout. "The issue has not gone away for us," Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer said. "We have no voice in how this state is run and we will still try to rectify that."
Eleven rural Colorado counties voted Tuesday on the question of whether their commissioners should proceed with plans to create a 51st state. Phillips County was one of five counties where the non-binding measure passed. The other four counties were Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Washington and Yuma. Together, the five counties have a total population of about 29,200. The measure failed 58 percent to 42 percent in Weld County — population 263,691 — where the 51st state idea first gained traction. Elbert, Lincoln, Logan, Moffat and Sedgwick counties also voted against secession.
Secession critic and retired University of Northern Colorado political science Prof. Steve Mazurana said the notion of breaking up with the Centennial State is all but dead. "Without Weld County, the efforts to secede will go nowhere, at least for the next decade," said Mazurana.
Schafer said the 51st state movement will now look to state lawmakers, including State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to advance a measure in next year's legislative session to change statewide representation. Once such proposal is the Phillips Plan which would have representatives elected by county, rather than by population. But University of Colorado law professor Richard Collins said a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s cemented the "one man, one vote" concept into law. Those cases will block any move to put rural counties on par with urban counties, he said.
The counties could also try to reshape the boundaries of legislative districts. But the Colorado Supreme Court said redistricting only happens every 10 years. "So the next time they can do that is 2021," Collins said. "These efforts are almost as hopeless as the 51st state movement and I thought that was pretty hopeless." State Sen. Greg Brophy — who represents many of the 51st state counties — said the counties that voted against secession were just being "pragmatic." "I suspect what they were saying with their vote is they liked Colorado as it is," said Brophy, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. "They just want a governor to represent them."
Hickenlooper said he recognizes the frustration of the 51st state followers. "While voters in six counties rejected the secession plan, we understand that some rural areas still feel underrepresented and are not being heard," Hickenlooper said. "We remain committed to listening more and working with local communities all across Colorado."
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/montewhaley
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