Red State, Blue State, Old State, New State: ‘Northern Colorado’ Tries to Secede

A new secession movement driven by political tension in Colorado probably won’t work, but the idea, which has a long history in the United States, isn't so far-fetched

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Helen H. Richardson / Denver Post / Getty Images

Colorado State Capitol seen in 2012.

Weld County, Colorado has had enough of liberal transplants pouring into nearby Denver, turning their once-red state a blueish shade of purple. They’re tired of gun control legislation, tired of energy policies they think are unfair, and more than anything, they’re tired of having their agenda overshadowed in the state legislature. So they want out. And they’re serious about it.

“I’m a third generation Coloradoan,” says Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. “But I will tell you, the state I grew up in, the state that I’ve come to love, is slowly and surely slipping away to something I don’t recognize. I think that is what’s fueling this movement.”

In northeastern Colorado, eight counties are moving forward with a ballot initiative to secede and create a new state called Northern Colorado. The movement began at the end of Colorado’s latest legislative session, when the Democratically controlled legislature passed bills unpopular in the more rural eastern part of the state. None was more divisive than Senate Bill 252, which required electric co-ops to double the amount of energy they get from renewable resources by 2020. Republicans vigorously opposed the bill, arguing it would raise rural electricity rates, hurting farmers and ranchers. The bill passed the state senate by one vote and became law earlier this year.

(MORE: Can Obama Turn Colorado Blue?)

“We found ourselves down at the capital, quite frankly, being ignored,” Conway says. “We said, we need to figure out a way to send a message to Denver, because they’re not listening.” That message came from a group of citizens who brought the idea of secession to the Weld County Commission. “I’ll admit, the first time you hear this, you think that’s a little far out there,” Conway says. “But as you look into it, as you research it, as we as a board took time to do, you find out that five existing states went through this same process.”

Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says “no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other state; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well and that of the Congress.” Basically, if northern Colorado wanted to form its own state, it would have to persuade the state legislature and then the U.S. Congress. There is practically no chance of that happening.  Adding a new state to the Union would mean adding two new senators, and neither party wants to tip the balance in Washington.

“I just don’t see it in the cards,” says John Straayer, professor of Political Science at Colorado State University. “I can’t for the life of me see why this legislature would pass a resolution petitioning the Congress to create another state.” But it is possible, and in the past it has happened, as Conway pointed out. Maine was once part of Massachusetts and Kentucky came from Virginia. The state of West Virginia also broke away from Virginia 150 years ago during the Civil War. It was the last state to successfully secede from another.

“It’s easy to write it off as a silly story, because we all intuitively know that the politics are an extreme long shot,” says Michael Trinklein, the author of Lost States, a book about near misses in the history of state secessions. “In reality, most of American history we’ve spent changing the map, adding new territory, deciding how to slice it up, deciding what territories to keep and not keep.”

The list of “lost states” is longer than you might think. In 1896, a year and a half before Brooklyn would become part of New York City, a group of Long Island businessmen proposed to secede and create the “State of Long Island.” Sugar magnate Adolph Mollenhauer, one of the biggest advocates for Long Island’s separate statehood, argued that the island had plenty of territory and a larger population than Connecticut, Delaware or Rhode Island. But size had little to do with the movement–it was all about politics. “People up the State cannot legislate for us any better than we can legislate for ourselves,” Molenhauer told the New York Times.”We’re tired of bosses and bossism.”

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The fight against bossism (a term that sadly failed to remain in the political lexicon) continues. Every few years, someone on Long Island calls for secession, and in 2009, the Suffolk County Legislature voted through such a referendum that went nowhere with New York State. Different parts of California have tried to break away from the Golden State, usually with bad timing. Southern California came close to seceding in 1859, even passing the required state referendum, but with the Southern secession crisis broiling in Washington, admission of Southern California never came up for a congressional vote. In the 20th Century, parts of northern California and Oregon tried to create the state of Jefferson, but the movement died with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II.

Secession proposals aren’t limited to states either; dozens of cities and counties across the country have tried to create new municipalities. As if New York City didn’t have enough to worry about with the State of Long Island trying to steal Brooklyn and Queens, Staten Island regularly tries to secede from the city. Ten years ago, the ski town of Killington voted to secede from Vermont and join New Hampshire, despite the fact that the town lies 25 miles away from the border. Parts of Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago have tried, and failed, to secede. One of the few towns to make it was Carolina Shores, which left the town of Calabash, North Carolina, in 1998. The two towns had a bitter split, but now share a fire department.

When it comes to states, tensions arise because many are poorly designed. Several western states were drawn to link population centers on one side with rural areas on the other so that the two sides could support each other. But populations and politics shift. Over the past decade, nearly nine tenths of new residents in Colorado moved to one of the metropolitan counties, and a legislature that was once dominated by Republicans now has a Democratic edge.

Rural-urban divides have fueled other secession efforts. In the early 1990s, a dozen counties tried to break away and create the state of West Kansas to protest property tax hikes and a school funding formula that drew money away from rural schools in the southwest part of the state. The movement ended with concessions from the state government; today Kansas is intact. Conway says the Weld County Commission studied the Kansas secession movement. “That may be a similar model here,” he says.

At the very least, the would-be residents of Northern Colorado have drawn attention to their concerns. “I imagine there will be a lot of conversation and some study of this in the next legislative session,” Straayer says. “Whether or not it’s going to dramatically impact policy I have my doubts.”

For the time being, it appears states and would-be states are probably stuck with each other. “It’s sort of like once you pick someone to marry. It’s possible to change that, but it’s tough,” Trinklein says. “It’s the same thing with statehood. Once these pieces of territory have been connected it’s hard to separate them.”

MORE: Cash-Strapped Universities Turn to Corporate-Style Consolidation

34 comments
NativeCO
NativeCO

It's about time Colorado started changing a different color. As for Conway I'll give him the same advice I got for many years. "If you don't like it leave." The rest of us are tired of the BS this state has had to put up with in the past it's time we changed. Take your bigoted selves and go but the land stays here.

Cajamania
Cajamania

There never should have been a Colorado.  The flat part of Colorado should have been part of Kansas.  The mountain part should have been part of Utah.  Colorado always has been and always will be a state that never made sense.

swagger
swagger

we don't need any more right wing extremist senators or congressmen.  you folks out there live in your own private world as it is.  go away and play with your guns.

johnst1001a
johnst1001a

Might as well secede from the country while you are at it. 

Mtn14k
Mtn14k

First off, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway should know we're not "Coloradoans" we're Coloradans.  Secondly, this is a joke. Weld county and other northeastern counties are just blowing smoke.  I'm glad this state is finally turning purple! Citizens of Boulder, Fort Collins, and Resort cities are tired of the heavy conservative boonies of the Front range, Bible belt south and capitol (Colorado Springs), and ghost towns of the southwest dictating this state.  They've been the fear mongering bigots since the civil rights era.  Proud of my state, and if they don't like it they can do what they've been telling us, "Get the hell out of Colorado and go to Texass". 

FirstEcho
FirstEcho

It just won't EVER happen...theres just no way- it has to be OK'ed by not only the State Senate but the US Congress- Why would Congressman want to lose their power by adding new members? Oh yeah and it's a dumb idea.

Every state has Blue and Red Areas. WA state is the same way. Seattle and the Capitol Olympia are Blue, yet the Central and Right half are all Red. Same fro VA, MD, CA and most other states- get better politicians like the rest of us.

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

So the 16 families that live in those counties should get 2 votes in the senate? How about no.

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

When I moved to Colorado 22 years ago, the Republicans ran pretty much everything.  Back then, they had no problem running rough shod over anybody who disagreed with them.  Their attitude was "if you don't like it, that's too bad because we're the majority."  Since then, the political makeup of the state has shifted more towards the middle and left, mostly due to the influx of highly educated young people and minorities to the state's urban areas.  The conservative older white rural voters are now outnumbered by all the newcomers and they've lost most of their political power.  Now that the tables have turned, the rural counties are crying that it's not fair.  That's the real issue here.  People who were used to getting their way all the time can't deal with the fact their world has changed and a new majority is running things.   

GSpaight
GSpaight

@TIME to be called Crackpotopia...weird how when we were a R state and the cry babies bullied everyone they thought it was fine...

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

This is the thing about cons that make me call them stupid and evil.  They don't like democracy, or the (sometimes disappointing) results of it and stomp their feet and hold their breath until the rest of the stuff around them turns blue again.  They're anti-American.  They believe in democracy ONLY as long as they always get their way, then it's "fight, flee, hold breath and stomp feet and don't let anything change".

I get it that they're cowards.  I get it that they're traitors.  It's too bad that nature didn't equip them with backbones and brains, but that's what happens when you don't expand your breeding pool.

My feeling is that let them secede from Colorado, but don't let them back into the country as a state.  In the first place, they may not have enough people to qualify as a state.  In the second place, I'm not sure the United States would care if they became their own country (Small loss, but we don't need the malcontents on the land screwing up the country for the rest of us).  Then declare war on them (because they don't support democracy, only political  autocracy) because the United States won't tolerate a hostile country on our borders (or inside it).  Then conquer them and make them part of Colorado again.

Or better yet void the U.S. citizenship of anyone who stays inside that territory after a certain date, put up a fence around them and shoot them if they try to cross the border without a green card like the vigilantes in Arizona want to do.  And when they apply for foreign aid (since they are not a self-sustaining region), bury it in committee.  After all, the cons want all foreign aid to stop.  Let them live on Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Actions often have unintended consequences.  Let this become a lesson to all of them. That lesson is accept the outcome of the democratic processes or live in a different country where "democracy" means everyone has to vote the same way.

Rhomega
Rhomega

Secession will never be anything more than talk.

glennra3
glennra3

"A new secession movement driven by political tension in Colorado probably won’t work..."


Ya think?


Try, it has absolutely no chance of working. Just imagine the chaos this precedent would set into motion. 



DanBruce
DanBruce

Maybe Rick Perry can give them a few pointers. Maybe not. Ooops!

hivemaster
hivemaster

They should do what they keep telling Hispanics to do: self deport.

GarlandNicholas
GarlandNicholas

@TIME lol if we have to deal with libs in MN, they can learn to tolerate them also.

bill1
bill1

I guess it's a bit of, "If I can't have my way, I'll take my football and go home."  They should grow up.  In a democracy, you don't always get your way. And sometimes you do.  

Of course, the rabid right can't compromise on anything.  It's their way or the highway.

rolfster
rolfster

send these dumb-wits to Russia first, so they can get an appreciation of what they have here. 

Cajamania
Cajamania

@SarahConfran -- It might actually make sense to attach Northern Colorado to Wyoming, so those senators actually represent some more voters.  Everyone would probably be happier that way.  Just let Wyoming annex them and let Kansas annex some of the eastern counties.   It won't change the balance of power in DC and it would make more sense having state legislatures that still listen to rural concerns dealing with rural issues.  Similar things should also happen all over the country:  Eastern Washington & Eastern Oregon should join Idaho.  California should be split into at least 3 pieces.  Long Island, New York City and upstate New York should be split into 3 states.  The Florida panhandle should join Alabama.  Texas should split into 2 or 3 pieces.  None of this will happen because we don't want government to make sense in the long run, we want government that doles out little crumbs of power in the short run.  

gumshoo
gumshoo

@GarlandNicholas @TIME and we have to live with ignorant Republicans so the thoughts are likewise....

JustRon
JustRon

@GarlandNicholas @TIME  Have someone who can read and with intelligence and common sense explain to you what the rethuglican filth has done to the Wisconsin economy and other very American things.

walker is a koch sucker as are all of the imbeciles in the tea party and the followers of both.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@bill1

"They should grow up."

like doing the grown up thing in a democracy and looking to take action and attempt to do something within your constitutional rights? i'm sure you wouldn't have said the same thing in 1861 about west virginia splitting from virginia over slavery. no, since you (hopefully) don't support slavery, you probably think that was a great move. so what makes this "stupid" to you other than the fact that you don't like conservatives? nothing. absolutely nothing. maybe you're the one who needs to grow up. just because you don't agree with something doesn't make it stupid or diminish it, it just means you don't agree. of course, i don't expect your tiny little libtarded brain to be able to wrap itself around that concept, but it's worth a try


BruceS78
BruceS78

@Smittie @DanHirschhorn @GordonDeal No different from the Republican tyranny in TX and many of the southern states.  Time for rural areas to grow up.  For many years the rural parts of the western states dominated the state legislatures.  Now the urban areas do.  Its really surprising that the urban areas haven't pushed their agendas even harder than they have.  Most urban areas badly need better roads and improved school systems.  In many of the western states, the rural areas have done everything possible to prevent this movement of state funding from rural areas to urban areas.  Nevada's road system a classic example of this mismatch of funding versus population.

Cajamania
Cajamania

@JustRon @TIME -- Always good to see such high minded rhetoric.  What's next, dropping f-bombs?  Typical hate-filled rhetoric from the left.

NativeCO
NativeCO

@cjh2nd @bill1 Unfortunately this probably wasn't the first nor will it be the last time you try to equate the abomination of slavery as equal to anything that northeastern Colorado's old white population (of which I belong to) could be complaining about. Your comment is pretty sad to say the least.

VoxyBrown
VoxyBrown

@bill1 Whoa whoa whoa, hold on. I don't usually weigh in here, but this jumped out at me.

You followed this sentence: "just because you don't agree with something doesn't make it stupid or diminish it, it just means you don't agree."

With this sentence: "i don't expect your tiny little libtarded brain to be able to wrap itself around that concept"

Reconcile those two before being taken seriously.

Also, you don't know that the fact that Bill doesn't like conservatives is the only thing he's taking into consideration when he criticizes the secession movement. I consider myself an economic pragmatist while being a social progressive (in other words, a moderate), and I'd see a liberal call for secession due to votes not going a certain way to be equally petty and over-the-top.

harte.ryan
harte.ryan

@cjh2nd the difference is one was a divide over the enslavement of human beings, the other isn't.

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