Finishing their comments with a quote by Gandhi and one of Barack Obama’s campaign slogans, Weld County commissioners on Monday voted to place the 51st state initiative on the November ballot.
“Si se puede — yes, we can,” said Weld County Commission Chairman Bill Garcia just before commissioners unanimously approved ballot language asking Weld residents if they would like to secede from Colorado and form a new state. Obama used that slogan in his presidential campaign.
“Now it’s in the people’s hands,” Weld County commissioner Sean Conway said after reading a quote he found by spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi over the weekend — “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
Echoing sentiments of a rural-urban disconnect at the state Capitol, commissioners said they received overwhelming support to secede from Colorado at public hearings in Fort Lupton, Longmont, Evans and Ault.
“Frankly, I don’t think they share our vision, and they don’t share our morals,” Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said of Denver-metro area lawmakers. Commissioners said legislation passed this year is harmful to the county’s agriculture and oil and gas industries.
Weld was the fourth county involved in the 51st state initiative to vote in favor of the ballot language, followed closely by Phillips County commissioners, who voted in favor of the measure on Monday afternoon.
Sedgwick, Cheyenne and Yuma counties have already placed the language on their ballots. 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.
Rademacher said he expects the initiative to pass 60 to 40 percent when it’s put to Weld County voters this fall.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno said adding the measure to the ballot won’t be an additional cost to the county because the county foots the bill for elections anyway. He said the cost depends on how many municipalities are holding local elections that year, in which case the county is reimbursed by entities coordinating with Weld.
Commissioners voted on the ballot language in a resolution, but opened the floor for public comment anyway.
“Some folks think that this is a fairly radical idea, they call secession very radical,” said Jeffrey Hare, who founded the 51st State Initiative Facebook page, which has garnered more than 11,000 likes. “I would argue that this is not radical, but it is something that our framers envisioned.”
Only two other people spoke before commissioners voted, one in favor and one against the initiative.
“I hope that there will be a resounding defeat of this absurd proposal,” said Vicki J. Anderson, a Greeley resident.
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said the board has been personally attacked since they introduced the initiative — they were called petulant, stupid crybabies, emotional and immature — and spoke directly in response to an editorial that ran in the Tribune, saying she disagrees that the initiative that is a waste of time and energy.
Kirkmeyer said she feels she and the board made an effort to establish a dialogue with a number of state lawmakers and officials about the issues facing Weld and other rural counties, but their efforts were “to no avail.”
Conway likened the secession proposal to an initiative in the mid-1970s to turn Weld into a home rule county, which gives commissioners local control over unincorporated areas instead of the state. He said residents called that initiative crazy, and it took three tries before it got on the ballot.
As a home rule county now, Weld has no short- or long-term debt, no sales tax and a $100 million reserve fund, Conway said.
“What did we learn from that example?” he said.