Monday, August 5, 2013

“North Colorado” Wants to Add 51st Star to the American Flag

It started as a pipe dream among many others, where residents of one area of a U.S. state contemplate seceding, so that they can be free of a political majority they find distasteful.  Examples that have been reported on in this blog are the Republican-led South California movement in southern California’s high deserts, the similarly politically conservative State of Superior movement in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and a proposal by Republican downstaters in Illinois to eject Chicago and thus make the rest of Land of Lincoln a red state.  But the recent plan by disgruntled rural conservatives in northeastern Colorado to split off and form the State of North Colorado turns out to be a more durable idea than had at first been thought.  On July 8th, 10 Colorado counties, forming the state’s northeastern corner, met in Akron, Colorado, to lay out a plan of action.

[Note: For North Colorado and 51st-state updates since this article was published, see this recent article.)

The movement, which began in the minds of the county commissioners in Weld County, builds on rural anger of legislative moves in the capital, Denver, that make many northeasterners feel “our way of life is under attack.”  Such developments include new laws on cruelty to livestock (Republicans appear to be for it), renewable energy (they’re against that), gun control (“cold, dead fingers” and all that), and, most nationally prominent, Colorado last year becoming one of now two states (Washington is the other) where marijuana is no longer illegal.

Colorado used to be pretty much a red state.  Yes, it is known for producing individualistic and eccentric political views that don’t always map well onto what the East Coast regards as the left–right political spectrum.  The best example of this is Richard “Dick” Lamm, governor from 1975 to 1987, an ardent environmentalist Democrat who killed a plan to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver but who also regarded his own Democratic Party as “too close to the trial lawyers and the National Education Association” and supported physician-assisted suicide, long before any other public figure did, not on the grounds of compassion but because invalids had “a duty to die and get out of the way.”  (Later, he joined Ross Perot’s fiscal-conservative Reform Party.)  But rural Coloradans’ individualism, suspicion of government, and romanticism of the Wild West always overrode their other impulses and made Colorado a Republican Party stronghold.  At least until demographics began to shift over the past couple decades: Denver and the emerging hippie counterculture mecca of Boulder have grown, and so has the state’s Hispanic population.  It is now a swing state, and that explains why those in the state’s rural northeast feel (correctly, actually) that they are losing their voice.

Richard Lamm
Initially, North Colorado was to consist of eight counties: Kit Carson, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, and Yuma.  By the time of the July 8th meeting, Lincoln and Cheyenne had come on board, creating a set of boundaries that would embrace about a fifth of the state’s land area (and essentially none of its famous mountains) but only just over 6% of its population.  Signatures are now being gathered in all 10 counties, plus Elbert County, which, unlike any of the others, is treated by the U.S. Census as part of the greater Denver area.  There have also now been expressions of interest from a much less geographically homogeneous array of rural counties around the state, 19 of them: Delta, Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, Montrose, Rio Blanco, and Routt in the northwestern corner; Larimer in the north; and Baca, Bent, Crowley, Douglas, El Paso, Fremont, Kiowa, Otero, Park, Pueblo, and Teller in the southeast.  This makes nearly half of the state’s 64 counties and over half its land area.

In addition to the original 8 “North Colorado” counties (see map at top of article), all the counties in green on this map are now on board with secession, and 19 other Colorado counties (in blue) and two Kansas ones (in white) have expressed support.  In dark green is Cheyenne County, where the issue will go on the ballot.
There is also support from two counties in western Kansas who would like to join (Cheyenne and Wallace) as well as parts of western Nebraska.  These ideas are not new.  Shortly after marijuana was decriminalized, a conservative Coloradoan newspaper columnist suggested a conglomerate of rural counties at the intersection of eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and southwestern Nebraska’s “panhandle” become a new state to be called CoKaNe (yes, pronounced like that—and that does line up pretty well with the drugs of choice of the two parties’ candidates in the 2000 presidential election).  And in 1982, 85% of residents in Nebraska’s 11 “panhandle” counties told a newspaper they wanted to get out from under Lincoln’s thumb and join Wyoming (an idea, actually, which dates to the 1890s).  A columnist in Alliance, Nebraska, said, to this suggestion, “Then we’d have mountains and they’d have a football team.”  States of West Kansas, Kansahoma, and Kansorado have also been mulled in the past.  But none of this had ever been as serious as the North Colorado movement.  Officials in Cheyenne County, Colorado, are already planning to put the issue before voters in a referendum, and Phillips County is considering it.

After the initial hubbub, some moderates began saying that perhaps a less, um, democratic federalism might be in order, such as guaranteeing individual counties a certain share of legislative seats, as a way of slowing the demographic juggernaut of Denver and Boulder city-slickers in Coloradan elections.  But presuming that the North Colorado idea goes forward, some things will have to be sorted out first.

Welcome to downtown Boulder
One is the United States Congress, which has to approve any new states.  Generally, Congress is only willing to admit states in pairs, for political reasons.  This dates back to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when the admission of Maine and Missouri retained the delicate balance of slave and free states and was most recently in play in 1959, when conservative Alaska and liberal Hawaii were added to the union in tandem.  If the North Colorado push does not go away, it may be time for the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico to seize the moment.

Second is a postal abbreviation.  North Carolina is already NC, and ND and CO are likewise taken.  This is as good a reason as any for North Coloradoans to actually come up with a new name for the state and not take the lazy West Virginia route.

Third, of course, is a flag.  Both opponents and proponents of North Colorado statehood have offered designs, though the movement itself does not have one yet.  The Southern Nationalist Network, a (rather embarrassingly for North Coloradoans) racist neo-Confederate organization, has suggested this one (the uncommented-upon use of a red star showing just how far in the past the Cold War is for many young conservatives) ...

... while a more Democratically inclined blogger suggests either this ...

... or an expression of rural Colorado values that looks like this:

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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