Several counties in the northeastern part of Colorado, along with Moffat County in the northwest corner of the state, want to secede from Colorado. They may 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 gas-and-oil industry that is the economic lifeblood of their counties. They believe they are overtaxed and under-represented.
And they do not 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 Western 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 does not buy the sparsely populated rural counties the power they believe they deserve.
It is not a new complaint – whole states in the rural West and Midwest – states with lots of land and few people – believe they are 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 will not change that; instead, it will strengthen Democrats’ advantage in Denver, at least during the short term. That result is not likely to gain the appreciation of nonseceding rural counties, although – again, through the short term – perhaps conservative residents of other rural areas realize their disadvantage cannot 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 is 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 is a flaw inherent in a two-party political system that serves the extremes far better than it does the middle of the population. It is 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 is 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 has been done and craft one-sided measures of their own. The message – and it is not inaccurate – is “We do not care about people who are not like us, especially since you are wrong anyway.”
That system is not working. Right now, it is 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 real. The proposed solution, however, will not solve it.