POLITICS
11/06/2013 11:31 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2013

Colorado Secession Vote Fizzles: Rural Counties Split On 51st State Initiative

If at first you don't secede, try, try again? That's what backers of the 51st state of "North Colorado" proposal will have to ask themselves, now that voters in Colorado's rural counties were split on the secession movement. Voters in six counties rejected a proposal to secede from the state, while five counties approved, Tuesday night.

Washington, Phillips, Yuma, Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties voted in favor of secession, while Weld, Logan, Sedgewick, Elbert, Lincoln and Carson counties rejected the 51st state question. Voters in Moffat County, the sole northwestern county involved in secession threats, also rejected secession, halting the possibility of it becoming a new panhandle to Wyoming.

The question to voters reads: "Shall the Board of County Commissioners of ______ County, in concert with the county commissioners of other Colorado counties, pursue becoming the 51st state of the United States of America?"

The counties whose voters approved of secession plans cannot automatically break free from Colorado now; it simply allows officials in those counties to pursue the idea of secession further.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who is also running as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said last week that he would vote against the secession plan.

"I think the better strategy is to work to defeat the out-of-touch politicians causing this feel of separation,” Buck told The Denver Post.

Buck's sentiments were apparently shared by the majority of voters in Weld County as well as the other sparsely-populated counties in Colorado's northeast and northwest corners that rejected the 51st state plan, but the very real cultural divide between Colorado's urban centers and rural plains still remains.

"There is getting to be such a great disconnect and unfortunately it's kind of drawn a line between urban people and those on the land," Weld County resident Chuck Sylvester said to Al Jazeera.

"They don't need our vote and they've become pretty arrogant in just ram-rodding whatever they want through," Chuck's wife Roni Sylvester added.

The secession plan was 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 areas and civil unions.

"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."

A recent report from I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS revealed that secession may have actually been financially beneficial to the state of Colorado.

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.

The prospects of secession actually occurring in the five counties that approved of the question are slim to none. 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.

The last state to successfully form a new state was West Virginia in 1863, while the nation was embroiled in the Civil War.

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 Sean Conway, a vocal supporter of the secession movement, had said before Tuesday's vote that just because secession hasn't been done for 150 years doesn't mean it's not a good plan.

“It hasn’t been tried in a while, but we also didn’t have a Supreme Court decide the presidential election for 100 years," Conway said to The Greeley Tribune referring to the 2000 presidential election.

But as it became clear that Weld County voters rejected the 51st state plan Tuesday night, Conway said he'd respect their will. "Weld County voters said this is an option we shouldn't pursue and we won't pursue it," Conway said to The Denver Post. "But we will continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state."

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