Striking a defiant tone against critics who have called them foolish, crybabies and other names, Weld County commissioners in Colorado voted unanimously to let the state’s residents vote on whether to pursue the idea of becoming the 51st state.
“The concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored for years,” Bill Garcia, chairman of the Weld County Board of Commissioners said, “The last session was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many people. They want change. They want to be heard. Policies being passed by the legislature in Denver are having negative impacts on the lives of rural Coloradans. This isn’t an ‘R’ versus ‘D’ issue; it’s much bigger than that.”
The ballot’s language says, “Shall the Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, in concert with the county commissioners of other Colorado counties, pursue becoming the 51st state of the United States of America?”
Weld is actually the fourth county to place a measure on the ballot. Sedgwick, Cheyenne and Yuma counties have already passed identical measures. Washington and Logan county commissioners are slated to vote on Tuesday and Kit Carson commissioners will vote on Wednesday. Morgan County commissioners are waiting for a citizen petition that includes 15 percent of their registered voters before moving forward with the initiative.
Talks regarding the statehood initiative began last June when commissioners from several northern and eastern Colorado counties were discussing their frustrations with 2013 legislative session including the passage of firearm restrictions, oil and gas regulations and renewable energy mandates on rural Colorado.
The energy legislation was seen by some as being intended to punish rural Colorado by requiring rural electric cooperatives derive 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Many of rural electric utilities use hydropower, however the Democrats in the legislature deliberately excluded it as counting toward the 20 percent goal.
The bill was seen as being an attack on the oil and gas industry, which is thriving in Weld County.
Weld County, which is the third largest in the state is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It also boasts the distinction of being the only county in the United States with no long or short term debt and no income tax. The state also has a $100 million surplus. The distinction came from decades of a desire for fiscal independence. In 1976 voters chose to make the county into a home rule county which enables it to exist under its own governing rules.
Prior to the bill’s passage the commissioners made it plain that they were not going to back down from those who were attempting to ridicule them over the issue.
“We did our best to ensure that everyone conducted themselves in a respectful manner and we conducted the meetings in a respectful manner. However, the commissioners have been personally attacked and I don’t appreciate it,” commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. “We were told that we were children with a disorder, that we just wanted to be rebellious and oppositional, that were crazy, petulant, stupid, crybabies, morons, idiots, and that we were emotionally immature. Well there has been a lot of frustration and pent up anger form our constituents and I don’t apologize for taking the time to listen to their concerns.”
“Whether you agree with the idea of a 51st state or not is not the issue, Commissioner Mike Freeman said. “The issue is we should let the citizens of Weld County decide their own destiny and that is what we are doing here today with this ballot question.”
The commissioners had some harsh words for the Greeley Tribune which has come out in opposition to the issue and told commissioners to simply drop the issue, arguing that among other things that it would hurt the county’s image.
“The Greeley Tribune said they agree with our message they disapprove of what we are doing. What I would say to that is I don’t ever think it’s a bad idea for the board of county commissioners to go out and listen to our constituents,” Kirkmeyer said. “I don’t think that’s a waste of time and I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have a discussion with our constituents and allow them to vent their frustrations as citizens of Weld County, and I don’t think that giving our citizens the right to exercise one of the most basic rights guaranteed under our Constitution is a waste of money.”
Kirkmeyer explained that as a 4th generation Coloradoan she has never seen rural residents as angry as she has seen them over this issue.
This level of frustration has been high and there’s a lot of pent up anger,” Kirkmeyer said. “It should be up to the voters and they feel they are not being looked up to by the governor and legislators. They feel this is a great exercise in democracy and that this is what the Declaration of Independence is all about.”
She went on to say that it is logical for the commissioners to place the issue on the ballot because residents are wanting to hold them accountable for the actions of the legislature.
“A few months ago we had constituents sitting in this room for several meetings and sharing with us their frustration over the firearms laws that were passed by the legislature and they wanted to hold us accountable for the actions of the General Assembly. It took us five meetings to convince them that we could not simply nullify a law passed by the state.”
Commissioner Doug Rademacher said the reason this issue has come to a head is because legislators in Denver have a different set of moral and vision than Weld residents have.
“I think rural America, not just rural counties have been under attack for years now. Some of the rulemaking coming from the government has been quite disappointing as they try to dictate to us how we will live and frankly I don’t think they share our vision, and our morals. After attending three of the last four meetings is very evident that people want this issue on the ballot.”
Others have complained the ballot issue is an unnecessary expense to taxpayers, however, Garcia pointed out that argument is totally without merit.
“Every resident in Weld County will be getting mail in ballot this November for school board and other local elections,” he explained. “Our ballot question in only a few short words so it will add virtually nothing to the cost of this election.”
He went on to explain that the ballot question is intended to essentially be a poll for the commissioners to use to gauge the will of the people.
“In each of these town hall meetings we had the vast majority of people were overwhelmingly in favor of the 51st state idea. However, we don’t want to take up this issue based on just that,” Garcia said. “This ballot initiative gives the voters of Weld County to plainly tell us what they want us to do. Why would anybody be opposed to us asking the voters for their opinion?”
Sean Conway said because of its fiscal prudence the county is able to do more for its roads than CDOT.
“Just last week we dedicated a $4 million crime lab for the region. We are currently building the only four lane highway in the state of Colorado. CDOT isn’t doing it because they don’t have the money, but we do because of good financial stewardship,” Conway said. “When I tell people in urban areas that 70% of the state lands funding for K-12 education comes from Weld County because of all the oil and gas production they are amazed. If you include the other counties that are likely to be part of this initiative it comes to coast 80% of the income.”
Garcia had a word for those who questioned if the movement to become the 51st state could ever become a reality.
“To quote President Barack Obama, si se puede, ‘yes we can.’”