A failed secession attempt by 11 Colorado counties generated conversations that will make the state stronger, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said Tuesday.
Voters in six of the 11 Colorado counties voted the largely symbolic secession proposal down last month, while five counties approved.
The secession movement "really led to debates and discussions that are going to make each of your counties stronger and, I think, ultimately make the state stronger," Hickenlooper told local officials at a Colorado Counties Inc. event, the Associated Press reports.
Washington, Phillips, Yuma, Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties voted in favor of secession, while Weld, Logan, Sedgewick, Elbert and Lincoln 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 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, recreational marijuana legalization, 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."
Hickenlooper, who is running for a second term as governor of Colorado, has seen his popularity slide as he signed several controversial bills into law that the Democratic legislature passed this year including universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers and a ban on high capacity magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
The state's new gun laws resulted in the first-ever recall election in Colorado history and ouster of Senate President John Morse (D-Colo. Springs) and Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) over their support of the gun control laws. A third Colorado Democrat, Sen. Evie Hudak (Westminster), resigned last week over threats of a recall election because of her vote for stricter gun laws.
It's not the first time Hickenlooper has addressed the secession plans and the possibility of needing to listen to the state's rural communities more closely.
"When I think of Colorado it means all of our diverse communities and people," Hickenlooper said to 9News of the secession movement, prior to the vote. "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."
Although the majority of the sparsely-populated counties in Colorado's northeast and northwest corners rejected the 51st state plan, 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 before the vote.
"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.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, a vocal supporter of the secession movement, said he would respect the will of the county voters who rejected the plan, but that county lawmakers would "continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state."
The prospects of secession actually occurring in any Colorado counties 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.