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Holyoke calls for secession question on Nov. ballot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

Proposed change in legislative representation explained

“Put it on the ballot!” was heard loud and clear by Phillips County commissioners by the end of the Thursday, July 18 public information meeting.

Around 35 people were present at SunSet View in Holyoke, and most agreed they wanted to see a question on the November ballot regarding secession from Colorado to form the 51st state.

If the question passes by a simple majority of Phillips County voters, it will give the county commissioners permission to be included in the process of moving forward with the new state movement.

Residents in attendance said the 51st state issue is what got them all to the meeting, and if commissioners were hoping to find out what they think, they want to see the question on the ballot. The only way to find out what Phillips County wants is to put it to a vote, they said.

“The way I gather from this crowd, we will put the question on the ballot this November,” said Joe Kinnie, chair of the Phillips County commissioner board.

After Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners still needed to come to a final decision about the question going on the ballot. They have until the Aug. 5 deadline to decide.

Phillips County Commissioner Joe Kinnie, at right, takes questions from a group of around 35 people at a public meeting in Holyoke last Thursday, July 18 regarding the 51st state movement in northeast Colorado.  —Enterprise photo

A Phillips County vote for secession would help fuel the cause, giving urban leaders the message that rural Colorado is serious about a change.

However, it might also give more power at the state legislature next year for an alternative to secession.

Earlier this month, Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer proposed an alternative to both Weld County (where the original idea of a 51st state came about) and at a public meeting in Akron with representation from 10 northeast Colorado counties. The idea, dubbed the “Phillips County Proposal,” got favorable response at those meetings and has created quite a stir around the state.

Schafer said the issue is that rural Colorado has no voice in the state government, so he proposed to change one state legislative body to representation by area—or county—instead of representation by population.

“It simply goes back to the plan set in place by our founding fathers,” said Schafer, pointing out the check and balance of the U.S. Senate, with each state equally represented by two senators, and the House, which is based on population.

Both the Colorado Senate and House are based on population. There are 35 districts in the Senate with about 123,000 people represented for each district, and the House has 65 districts with approximately 75,000 people per district.

Schafer showed people present at the meeting the Colorado district maps, noting how the vast majority of legislative representatives come from the urban corridor. He counted six rural Senate districts and 12 rural House districts.

“Six out of 35 doesn’t make much of an impact,” he said. “Twelve out of 65 gives you little to no voice.”

He added they aren’t talking ill of the current legislative representatives, but “they are getting run over.”

Phillips County is part of House District 65, which includes seven counties, and Senate District 1 encompasses 11 counties in northeast Colorado.

Schafer agreed with Weld County that rural Colorado doesn’t have much of a voice in the state legislature right now, but he said Weld County’s proposal of a new state is very dramatic. “What can we do to get a voice again?” Schafer asked. “My question—can we find another way to get a rural voice?”

Under his proposal, the Colorado House would have 64 seats, one per county regardless of the size of the county. That would give one less representative than the current House.

The other option is to apply the concept to the Colorado Senate, giving it 29 more seats than the current Senate for a total of 64—one per county.

This alternative to the 51st state initiative does not come without its challenges.

Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer explains his alternative to secession—a proposal to give rural counties a voice by changing state representation in either the House or Senate to one representative per county instead of by population.  —Enterprise photo

The 1964 Reynolds v. Sims Supreme Court case—which came out of an Alabama redistricting case—ruled that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population, based on the principle of “one person, one vote.”

“We think the 1964 decision could be overturned,” said Schafer.

He explained they would need to find a sponsor to take it to the 2014 Colorado legislature to hopefully pass a bill referring the proposed amendment to the state constitution to the ballot.

If the bill does not pass, the next step is to get it on the ballot through a citizen petition. Once on the ballot, it would allow the entire state of Colorado to vote on the change in representation.

Even then, it could be challenged as unconstitutional.

Some in the crowd spoke up, saying it’s asking the people in power to give up power, and nobody wants to give up power!

If Colorado can “break even” in the urban area, said Schafer, and convince them this is what’s fair, then the rest of the state will go along with it. He urged the public to talk with their “urban cousins” about the issue, and that it’s up to the people to spread the word.

“It’s an uphill climb,” said both Schafer and Kinnie.

“I don’t think anything’s impossible!” added Kinnie.

The question was asked how many Colorado counties are considered urban, and Schafer thought around eight of the 64 are urban.

“This is not just a Colorado issue,” said Schafer, noting rural counties are quickly becoming the minority all over the country.

“Our whole way of life is people jeopardized,” said Kinnie. “But I still want to maintain our great state of Colorado,” so when Schafer proposed this alternative, “it hit us there is another way to go,” he added.

“The room just lit up” when it was proposed to Weld County, said Kinnie, and almost 100 percent of the hands went up during the Akron meeting, saying, “Let’s pursue it.”

Phillips County commissioners said that secession should be used as a last resort, but despite this new representation change proposal, some counties are still putting the secession questions on their ballots this November.

Weld County is still holding the 51st state movement over their heads and keeping it in the back of their minds, hoping it will be a hammer coming down on urban Colorado.

Weld County chose nine other northeast Colorado counties, said Schafer, because they felt a “kinship” to them. It would be a new state made up of people with similar values.

The 10 original counties approached for “North Colorado” were Weld, Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma, Lincoln, Kit Carson and Cheyenne.

Other counties, both in Colorado and outside the state, have expressed interest in the idea of a 51st state.

The proposal of a new state creates its own set of challenges. For it to happen, the counties seceding must be on the edge of the state, and consent must be given from both the state legislature and U.S. Congress.

They can ask the state legislature to consider changing the boundaries of the state, and if that does not pass, it would have to be by petition.

It was asked at the meeting how much it will cost to form a new state and where that money will come from. The commissioners had no answer, simply noting studies on that topic are planned for sometime in the future.

Some pressed the commissioners to put it up for a vote by the people, while others said they needed more information about a 51st state before they could officially vote for it.

Still others agreed that even if the county doesn’t want to secede, a vote for the 51st state movement would send a big message to the state and give the change in representation proposal more leverage in the legislature.

The county commissioners will be working with Colorado Counties Inc. on the legislation for state representation change.

Kinnie said they are running out of time to put the seceding question on the Phillips County ballot this November but that a question could be worded before the early August deadline.

Just prior to the meeting in Holyoke last Thursday evening, commissioners also held a public meeting in Haxtun at the Haxtun Community Center.

Holyoke Enterprise July 25, 2013