POLITICS
10/23/2013 06:12 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2013

'North Colorado' Secession Legality Questioned In Weld County

Voting in 11 rural Colorado counties on whether or not they want to split off from proper Colorado and form the 51st state of "New Colorado" or "North Colorado" has already begun, but a group of attorneys is debating the legality of the secession movement in one of the state's largest counties.

In Colorado's Weld County, the attorneys argue, only the region's residents can initiate the movement to secede from the state. But in Weld and some other rural counties, County Commissioners have led the way toward secession, The Denver Post reports.

"We find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County," lawyers Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson wrote in a letter to the Weld County Council.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker told The Greeley Tribune that the commissioners have acted legally so far because Weld County's Home Rule Charter gives commissioners the ability to put an initiative on the ballot without restrictions.

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.

"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, S.B. 252, was, for example, 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.”

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.

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