‘Groundswell’ of support lacking on Grand County secession proposal

Leia Larsen
Commissioners, from left, Gary Bumgarner, James Newberry and Merrit Linke discuss county issues on Tuesday, Aug. 27. As part of their meeting agenda, the commissioners discussed a ballot initiative to secede from the state of Colorado. A final vote will be made on Sept. 3.
Leia Larsen/ |

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — As county commissioners listened to citizens weigh the pros and cons of secession, one primary point emerged: rural areas don’t feel they’ve received adequate representation in Colorado.

The commissioners took public comment on the secession issue the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 27. The 51st State Initiative, started by 11 counties in northeast Colorado, including Weld, seeks either an independent 51st state, annexation to Wyoming or more county representation in the state legislature. The discussion came just as Moffat County announced its decision to put secession on its November ballot, making it the first West Slope county to join the movement.

Commissioners stressed the point of the meeting was to initiate discussion. Each commissioner said they would like to hear more public comment before voting on adding a secession measure to the ballot.

“I’m sure every politician in history has promised their constituents they will listen,” said Commissioner Merrit Linke. “This is what listening looks like, that’s what we’re doing today.”

Secession would require local support, approval from the state legislature, an amendment to the Colorado constitution and approval from the U.S. Congress. While about 20 Grand County citizens posed questions about the logistics of forming a new state, including funding roads and education, most seemed to agree leaving Colorado was both unlikely politically and impractical economically. Instead, the point of having a secession measure would be to send state government a message.

Several citizens expressed bitterness at being part of a voting district that includes Boulder, saying that the city’s liberal interests take precedence over the interests of rural Grand County. Other citizens said they felt a secession measure wasn’t the best solution to getting rural voices heard, and that even a symbolic measure was a waste of time and resources.

Commissioners will vote on a ballot measure at 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, during their regular meeting open to the public. Commissioners said they’d need to see “groundswelling” support from county citizens to add it to the ballot.

“What I’m hearing is about 50-50 from people in this room. What I need to see is an overwhelming flood of support to put this initiative on the ballot, and I’m not seeing that,” Linke said.

Reporter Leia Larsen can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19603.

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