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Support voiced in Weld for 51st state

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By Ben Wiebesiek

FORT LUPTON — Weld County commissioners held a series of public meetings starting July 25 to gauge support for ideas to solve “the deepening divide between urban and rural” interests in Colorado.

    At the first of these meeting, at the recreation center in Fort Lupton, Bill Garcia, chairman of the board of the Weld County Commissioners, told the crowd that the purpose of the special meeting was to get public comments about the “statehood question,” whether residents in Weld County and other rural counties in Colorado would be better served in a new state.
    “The voices and concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored by the state legislature for years,” Garcia said. “This past legislative session was one of the most egregious examples of urban legislators ignoring the needs of rural Colorado.”
    Garcia, along with the other commissioners — Douglas Rademacher, Sean Conway, Mike Freeman and Barbara Kirkmeyer — pointed to Colorado Senate Bill 252 as an example of Denver’s exclusion of rural interests. Senate Bill 252, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper June 5, doubles the renewable energy requirements of some rural electricity providers.
    The statehood question was brought up during conferences June 24 and July 8 in Akron where representatives from 10 Colorado counties, including Weld County, discussed options to ensure that “rural Colorado voices will be heard at the state level,” according to a press release from Greeley.
    At the Fort Lupton meeting, the crowd of about 40 people was largely supportive of the idea of forming a new state.
    Diane Evans has lived in rural Fort Lupton for 30 years, and she told the commissioners that there is a disconnect between the urban and rural parts of the state.
    “We should push our wealth around because we have the wealth,” Evans said. “I’m sure there are ways to put ‘51st State’ banners everywhere and scare people. I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be boisterous about it.”
    Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution allows for new states to “be admitted by the Congress into this Union, but no new States 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 as of the Congress.”
    Walter Hughes, from Greeley, expressed doubts that state voters would let the mineral-rich counties such as Weld secede from Colorado.
    “The governor won’t let us unlock our wells during the drought, so I can’t see them letting us leave, because we could use our water as we see fit,” Hughes said. “I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think it’ll happen.”
    The commissioners made it clear that there were a few steps needed before Colorado voters could weigh in on the issue.
    “This is just a public meeting to get input about the idea,” Garcia said.
    If support for the idea is strong enough, then the statehood question could be added to a ballot for Weld County voters to decide; but even this question wouldn’t be about statehood, but whether rural counties should bring the issue up at the state level.
    During the Fort Lupton meeting, frustration with Denver and Gov. Hickenlooper was high, but enthusiasm for a new state was mixed.
    But the commissioners discussed other options available to Weld County including a re-designed state senate that would give more representation to rural residents — or moving the state capital out of Denver completely.
    “It’s all kind of drastic,” Hughes said after the meeting. “But drastic times call for drastic measures.”    

Contact Ben Wiebesiek at 303-659-2522, ext. 205, or email bwiebesiek@metrowestnewspapers.com.