In November, 11 of Colorado's rural counties will vote on whether or not they should secede from the state and form the 51st state, dubbed "North Colorado" or "New Colorado."
Voters in Colorado's 10 northeastern counties -- Weld, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington Yuma, Elbert, Lincoln, Kit Carson and Cheyenne -- will decide if they want to form a new state. Voters in Moffat, the sole northwestern county involved in secession threats, will decide whether they want to become a new panhandle of Wyoming or remain a part of Colorado's square.
A new report from I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS' Burt Hubbard analyzed just what the secession might mean for both the 51st state of North Colorado and for the Colorado mainland. The results were surprising.
On one hand, the state of Colorado could benefit financially from the secession. The Coloradoan reports that the state spends roughly $620 million in the 11 counties in the form of K-12 education, funding three regional community colleges and one university, incarcerating area criminals, supporting Medicaid and running the region's courts.
"So we did the math and extended that out and found a gap of between $60 million and $120 million for the 2011-2012 year," said Hubbard to 9News.
Jeffrey Hare, leader and spokesperson for the "51st State Initiative" disagrees with Hubbard's math. He believes the region puts more money into the state than they take out.
However if the secession actually happened -- which is extremely unlikely -- Colorado would lose about half of its oil fields, as well as key farmland which would certainly have an economic impact on the state.
"The heart of the 51st State Initiative is simple," the backers of the measure explain on their website. "We just want to be left alone to live our lives without heavy-handed restrictions from the state capitol. Will statehood be easy? No. However, pioneers are who have made this state great. Those early miners that came for the gold rush were pioneers. The early settlers that began farming the land and built the infrastructure to enable Colorado to be an agricultural powerhouse -- they were also pioneers."
The secession plan is driven by a number of new laws recently passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature, including gun control, the curbing of perceived cruel treatment of livestock, expanded regulation of oil and gas production, an increase in renewable energy standards in rural area and civil unions.
The renewable energy standards bill alone, (SB 252) was characterized by opponents as a "war on rural Colorado."
“I would’ve never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal,” said Lyle Miller to the New York Times. “I’m afraid for my grandchildren. I want them to have the same heritage I had.”
"Our very way of life is under attack," said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, one the county leaders that backs the secession plans. “I have never seen a legislative session like this,” Conway said. “They ignore us. They don’t listen to us. It started with the gun control bills and came to a head with S.B. 252 being signed.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) responded to the secession threats to 9News.
"Rural communities are hurting, but it's not because of background checks on guns sales, civil unions for gay people or expanded renewable energy," Hickenlooper said. "In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small."
"When I think of Colorado it means all of our diverse communities and people," Hickenlooper added. "I can't imagine Colorado being Colorado without the eastern plains. If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive. But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening."
Some see the plan as a joke or a shallow political move by county commissioners. "It's just going to be seen as a crackpot idea by a bunch of crackpot commissioners, some of whom are term limited," Steve Mazurana, a longtime Greeley resident and former political science professor at the University of Northern Colorado, told The Denver Post.
"Some will just call it Crackpottopia," Mazurana said.
Big Media Blog's Jason Salzman writes that the plan has "no shot at succeeding or seceding."
"This is a wacky media stunt by right-wing operatives," Salzman criticizes, "who mostly live in sparsely populated corners of the state. It's a meaningless sideshow staged by the Republican Party's right flank to trash common-sense laws, like new gun-safety and environmental statutes."
States like Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maine and West Virginia are often cited as successful examples of secession -- all of those states petitioned for statehood for reasons based on cultural divides. Weld County Commissioner Conway told the Greeley Tribune that just because secession hasn't been done for 150 years doesn't mean it's not a good plan. The last state to successfully form a new state was West Virginia in 1863, while the nation was embroiled in the Civil War.
The secession plan is a long shot, at best. For the secession to be successful, voters in each county would have to approve of the idea. Then North Colorado statehood would have to be approved by the state legislature, the governor, and the real clincher: both houses of the U.S. Congress.