Grand County bypasses secession in pursuit of senate ballot measure

Leia Larsen
The majority of Grand County citizens at a recent commissioner meeting voiced support for the 51st State Initiative. Even so, commissioners favored a different direction. They voted to put a question on the November ballot asking voters about having one state senator for each county in Colorado.
Leia Larsen/ |

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS —After hearing more arguments for and against secession from the state of Colorado, Grand County Commissioners decided instead to pursue a ballot measure that could bring more state representation.

In a unanimous decision, the commissioners decided to pose a question on the upcoming November ballot asking voters if they’d like to pursue bringing one senator to each county in Colorado.

The idea was first formulated by Phillips County, who has joined several other northeast Colorado counties in the 51st State Initiative.

“I don’t think anyone really wants a new state,” Commissioner Merrit Linke said. “But what I’m hearing is that we want to be heard, we want to be represented.”

Still, about 15 of the 18 county residents attending the commissioner’s meeting, held on Tuesday, Sept. 3, argued in favor of a secession ballot measure as a symbolic measure. Having a secession question would both send a message to state government and bring national media attention to issues in rural Colorado, attendees argued.

“It’s a great opportunity that we shouldn’t miss, not only to get some clout in Denver with other rural counties, but as an opportunity to educate our community on some issues we don’t even know have been forced down our throats,” said Mimi Kaplysh, a county resident.

Several of the county’s rural issues voiced during the meeting included recent legislation passed on firearm regulation, new regulations on renewable energy slated to raise electric rates and state legislation on civil unions. Many residents again voiced resentment over sharing district and legislative representation with Boulder County.

But Commissioner James Newberry pointed to water issues as a rebuttal numerous times.

“Who are some of our biggest allies on the Moffat and Windy Gap firming projects?” he asked. “The City and County of Boulder — the reason being environmentalists. So it has been an outstanding relationship for water.”

Newberry also noted that much of northeast Colorado, including Weld County, have agricultural interests thirsty for Grand County water supplies.

“Weld County’s representatives basically said to dry up Grand County and sell our water. That’s who I want to partner up with?” Newberry asked.

Front Range awareness about Grand County’s water issues was achieved through the regular political system, rather than through bold symbolic measures like secession, Newberry said.

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” Commissioner Gary Bumgarner agreed. “It feels good to have a vote (on secession), but I’m not sure it’s a benefit to Grand County at this point.”

Meeting attendees argued that Grand County’s interests were still less than secure.

“They can invalidate anything you do with water just by passing legislation,” said county resident Eden Recor. “We need to get this check and balance back in place between rural and urban.”

Despite strong protest, commissioners ultimately decided to leave secession off the ballot and instead pursue equal representation in the state Senate. Several meeting attendees said commissioners were missing an opportunity for national attention, and others noted that such a measure would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all state legislature districts had to have equal populations, based on the principle of “one person one vote.” Still, commissioners and some meeting attendees argued that equal representation for counties could be issued through grassroots campaigns and lobbying efforts.

“This shows we’re looking for answers instead of voting to protest,” Newberry said.

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