By Jack Minor –
Participants in a forum to inform voters about the pros and cons of a 51st state perfectly illustrated the reason Colorado’s rural residents feel urban legislators are ignoring them.
“No one has been disenfranchised. It may be that sometimes there is overreach and that happened. Take it easy, this is one legislative session. People change their minds. Now things like how many bullets are in a clip of an assault rifle magazine, that’s frivolous,” Steve Mazurana, retired professor of political science at the University of Northern Colorado said to voters who are considering the idea of whether to become the 51st state.
Weld County commissioners Barbara Kirkmeyer and Sean Conway, who support a ballot resolution asking their constituents if they want the commissioners to pursue the idea of forming a 51st state, squared off against Bob Ruyle, a water attorney and a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, and Mazurana, over the issue.
Tensions between the rural and urban residents in the state is an old dispute, but in recent years the disconnect between rural and urban values has become more pronounced. Conway, a third generation Coloradoan noted that the state today is not the same he grew up in.
“Something has changed in the last decade. The Colorado I grew up in, the Colorado we all love has changed,” he said. “Over the last 10 years approximately 90% of the in-migration into the state has occurred in the Denver metropolitan area and with that in-migration has come political power. These people didn’t grow up here, they didn’t go to school here, and they don’t appreciate our Colorado heritage.”
Mazurana and Ruyle argued that the commissioners do not have the legal authority to inquire of county residents about the issue by putting the question on the ballot. Mazuran argues that the state constitution says only the people can decide to secede and that the language means elected officials can have no part in the 51st state movement.
Kirkmeyer argued that Weld’s home rule charter plainly specifies that commissioners have the authority to place an initiative on the ballot.
Conway asked if secession is so wrong then why did the founding fathers allow for in the Constitution.
“Why on earth would our founders put this in our Constitution if they didn’t understand when they wrote that wonderful document that Times political disenfranchisement would occur. We see that through our nation’s history. There are five states, Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia that became a state through this process. “
Mazuran said residents who feel they are being disenfranchised are simply being foolish and that no such thing is occurring and if they are unhappy about the laws being passed they just need to get better lobbyists to present their case.
“The legislature shut out no one,”Mazuran said. “You are not disenfranchised, you’re not because you have a right to vote and elect representatives. Perhaps they don’t represent your interest well enough or they’re not convincing or persuasive. You need better lobbyists.”
Commissioners said the idea that residents were able to petition their representatives is flat out wrong.
“If you don’t believe anybody was denied the opportunity to testify go ask our sheriff. He was denied and so were 40 other sheriffs. John Morse the senator who got recalled said only one sheriff could testify each of the gun bill hearings,” Conway said. “I heard from hundreds of Weld County residents who went down to the state capital and were denied the opportunity to discuss legislation, to petition the legislators. I think you would agree with me that it is wrong.”
Conway went on to say that those who don’t think there is a disconnect between rural and urban residents are living in a state of denial.
“I think there’s a serious case of denial going on here. For the first time two state senators including the president of the state Senate getting recalled,” Conway said. “Fifty-five bipartisan elected sheriffs are suing the governor over recently enacted legislation laws and you have the county commissioners in 11 counties saying you know what, maybe we’re better off going on our own. If that’s not a serious disconnect I don’t know what is.”