The impulse is valid;
the proposal won’t work
Several counties in the northeastern corner of the state, along with Moffat County in the northwestern corner, want to secede from Colorado. They make take the first step in November by voting to leave. After that, the process gets a lot harder, perhaps impossible, but the reasons for rural residents’ dissatisfaction are worth examining.
They oppose the new gun laws passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. They disagree with environmental regulation that they believe hampers the oil-and-gas industry that is the economic lifeblood of their counties. They believe they are overtaxed and under-represented.
And they don’t like the political system they believe has done this to them.
Numerically, state politics are dominated by the populous Front Range counties, which have the votes to overrule the West Slope or the Eastern Plains almost effortlessly. Weld County, with Greeley as its county seat, carries some political weight, but not enough. Even the significant tax base of the energy industry doesn’t buy the sparsely populated rural counties the power they believe they deserve.
It’s not a new complaint — whole states in the rural West and Midwest, states with lots of land and few people, believe they’re shut out of the political process.
Right now, the problem is exacerbated by Democratic domination of the executive and legislative branches of the state government and by the presence of a Democrat in the White House. Obviously, and somewhat ironically, withdrawal of some of the state’s most conservative counties won’t change that; instead, it will strengthen Democrats’ advantage in Denver, at least over the short term. That result isn’t likely to gain the appreciation of non-seceding rural counties, although — again, over the short term — perhaps conservative residents of other rural areas realize their disadvantage can’t grow much worse.
Those who live in a place where, and a time when, their preferred political party is not in power logically feel disenfranchised. That’s true of progressives in Montezuma County and conservatives in La Plata County, and it will always be true of political minorities everywhere as long as the parties in power demand their power be absolute. It’s a flaw inherent in a two-party political system that serves the extremes far better than it does the middle of the population. It’s not a problem that can be solved by creating ever-smaller political subdivisions of like-minded people, unless they secede from the Union completely, and even then they will face political and economic pressures that undermine their autonomy.
The force that’s likely to halt the secession movement, at least for now, is the inevitable pendulum swing back toward the GOP, at which time a different set of people will feel unheard and poorly represented.
Right now parties that have the power to do so push through one-sided legislation. When the results of that push bring the other party to power, they undo what’s been done and craft one-sided measures of their own. The message — and it’s not inaccurate — is “We don’t care about people who aren’t like us, especially since you’re wrong anyway.”
That system is not working. Right now it’s not working for the Eastern Plains. If and when it starts working for that constituency, their progress will be at the expense of some other group. If the northeast quadrant of Colorado becomes its own state, some residents there will find themselves poorly served and want changes.
What is needed is not a 51st (or 200th or 1,000th) state but a system that better balances the needs, desires and opinions of a broader range of voters than the current either/or choices offer. The problem is very real. The proposed solution, however, won’t fix it.