From the Washington Post (Michael S. Rosenwald) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:
West Virginia was the last state to break off from another. Now, 150 years later, a 49-year-old information technology consultant wants to apply the knife to Maryland’s five western counties. “The people are the sovereign,” says Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the fledgling Western Maryland Initiative, and the western sovereigns are fed up with Annapolis’s liberal majority, elected by the state’s other sovereigns.
“If you think you have a long list of grievances and it’s been going on for decades, and you can’t get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do,” says Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, a historic town of 1,400 people in Carroll County. “Otherwise you are trapped.”
Strzelczyk’s effort is one of several across the country to separate significant portions of states from, as he puts it, “the dominant ruling class.” Nearly a dozen northern Colorado counties are the furthest along, with nonbinding referendums set for November ballots. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is making a move to join with parts of Wisconsin. Northern California counties want to form a state called Jefferson.
Historians, political scientists and the leaders of the movements say secession efforts are being fueled by irreconcilable differences on issues such as gun control, taxes, energy policy, gay marriage and immigration — all subjects of recent legislative efforts at state and federal levels. The notion of compromise is a non-starter. With secessionists, the term “final straw” comes up a lot…
What’s different now is how the secession efforts illuminate a hard truth about the country: The rural-urban divide is increasingly a point of political conflict. The population boom in urban areas such as Baltimore and the Maryland suburbs near the District of Columbia, the Boulder-Denver areas in Colorado, and in Detroit have filled state legislatures with liberal policymakers pushing progressive agendas out of sync with rural residents, who feel increasingly isolated and marginalized.
In Maryland, the five western counties — Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll — represent just 11 percent of Maryland’s population, according to 2010 Census figures. They earn less than the people who live in more urban areas. They vote overwhelmingly for Republicans in a deeply Democratic state. Nearly 90 percent of the residents are white, compared with 51 percent elsewhere. About 60 percent were born in Maryland vs. 46 percent in other parts of the state…
Olden’s views are generally not the same as those that dominate Maryland’s urban centers. She is against gay marriage. She is against what she describes as “the horrible encroachment on Second Amendment rights.” She opposes abortion.
She is fed up with taxes, and was particularly galled by the “rain tax” — a stormwater management fee — approved during the last legislative session.
“Taxing the friggin’ rain?” she says. “The next thing they tax will be the air we breathe.”[...]
The best case scenario, experts say, is that the threat of walking out somehow gets people back to the table. (Comparisons to marriage counseling come to mind.) In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, D, has said that he doesn’t agree with the secession movement there, but his public comments on the issue suggest that the efforts are at least seen as real.
And in the end, just having their voices heard could, perhaps, soothe the situation for frustrated voters like Olden.
“Best case scenario: It works. Worst case: Nothing changes,” she says. “But if it doesn’t work, maybe they will finally see that the populous really is fed up.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
State Sen. Greg Brophy is pretty certain he wants to be governor of Colorado. But if some people in several of the counties in his expansive northeast Colorado Senate district have their way, the Wray Republican who’s seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper soon could live in another state. The state of North Colorado.
Brophy, who’s in town to attend this weekend’s Club 20 fall meeting, said that while he encouraged commissioners in numerous counties in his district to place a 51st state initiative on their November ballots, he isn’t necessarily in favor of the idea.
Officials in such northeast Colorado counties as Weld, Morgan and Logan have pushed the idea of creating their own state because they don’t feel the Legislature is listening to them.
But while Brophy said he understands that sentiment, the longtime state legislator said the issue puts him in an awkward position. “I encouraged my county commissioners to move forward with this to catch the governor’s attention and the state Legislature’s attention,” Brophy said. “I think that most of the counties will vote to secede, but it won’t pass through the state Legislature.”
If such a vote passed, though, Brophy said he would be obligated to introduce a measure into the Legislature if his constituents demanded it of him, even though he’s not sure how he would vote on it. That’s because Brophy is hoping to persuade GOP voters in that district and elsewhere in the state that he should be their pick for governor when Hickenlooper comes up for re-election next year, and not one of the five other Republicans in the race.
That group includes former congressman Tom Tancredo and current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who has created a gubernatorial campaign and is set to announce next week whether he plans officially to enter the race. “If we run a Republican with a fresh face — but with the experience to immediately be effective and have the ability to appeal to the center of Colorado as a guy who’s interested in the things that they’re interested in, and someone they could trust — then the Republicans could win this gubernatorial election probably easier than anyone thinks,” Brophy said. “I think I’m that guy.”
When it comes to creating a new state, though, even Brophy doesn’t believe the effort is all that serious, saying that most of his neighbors see it as a protest more than anything else.
But would Brophy carry a bill in the 2014 legislative session allowing some northern Colorado counties to leave the state? “I have been obviously wrestling with that one,” he said. “Let’s wait to see the outcome of the vote before I decide what it is I have to do.”
Weld County Commissioners: "It is time to send THE message: we will no longer be ignored." Nxt 6 weeks will release editorials on #51stState
— Nathan Heffel (@Heffeln) September 10, 2013
From WYOFile.com (Kerry Drake):
Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890, but it took Republicans in the northern half of the state 49 years to decide that things just weren’t working out for them. Like their counterparts today in northern Colorado, they were fed up with the Democrats in the rest of the state having control of state government. They particularly despised Union Pacific and union workers.
But Swickard and his associates didn’t bother with petitions to get the secession issue on the ballot. Instead, they simply did what made sense and started acting like a state. After getting some like-minded residents in neighboring South Dakota and Montana to join the effort, Absaroka began issuing its own license plates. Swickard and his fellow rebels hosted the king of Norway, billing it as an official state visit that proved Absaroka was being recognized by world leaders, even though the king had just happened to be passing through southeastern Montana.
The new state even had a contest to crown its first beauty queen, Miss Absaroka, who turned out to also be the last Miss Absaroka when the movement faded into obscurity later in 1939.
Most of what has been recorded about the history of Absaroka is from the Federal Writers’ Project, which helped document New Deal life throughout the country. The primary motivation behind the new state was apparently dissatisfaction with how little money from the federal government was being doled out to northern agricultural interests that had been plagued for years by drought and grasshopper infestations…
What caught my attention, though, was that because the secession movement’s leaders recognize that fact, they are already looking at alternate plans, and one of them is for the northeastern Colorado counties to be annexed by Wyoming. No one seems to know exactly how this might be accomplished, but several county commissioners said they are studying the issue to determine if it’s viable. Some suggested that it could require only a state constitutional amendment instead of state and federal legislative approval.
At this point we Wyomingites need to call a time-out and yell, “Wait a minute — don’t we have a say in this?” Just because they may want to become residents of Wyoming doesn’t mean we have to let them. Do they know nothing about our historic, incredibly strong independent spirit, or the fact that many of our residents see Colorado license plates and have nothing but disdain for the people driving through the state? They’re certainly welcome to stop, eat, gas up, look around for a while and even stay a night or two, but after they’ve bought their souvenirs and seen Yellowstone or the Frontier Days rodeo, it’s time for them to go home.
From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):
Weld County commissioners on Tuesday announced they will publish a series of editorials in support of the 51st state initiative, with plans to release the series before early voting begins and Weld County residents voice whether they wish to secede from Colorado. The string of articles will answer specific questions that commissioners said have been asked since they proposed the initiative, and will outline their frustrations with the Colorado Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper that led them to suggest secession. “For too long we have endured the arrogance and, yes, elitism of the state Legislature and the Governor’s Office. They mock us, they refuse to listen and they dismiss our concerns,” commissioners said in a news release. “As your Board of County Commissioners, we have been ridiculed for having the audacity to even suggest we pursue separating from the rest of Colorado. The fact is, the state many of us grew up in, the state we love, is slipping away into something many Colorado residents no longer recognize.”
Commissioners said they will address a number of topics over the next six weeks, including water, energy, education and agriculture, highlighting the tensions between rural and urban needs and responding to some questions about how those things would be handled in a new state. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said commissioners would write editorials about any other questions that constituents have about county government, and that many residents have asked him and his fellow commissioners if they were going to disseminate any information before the vote in November.
Commissioners said it doesn’t cost the county any money to place the initiative on the ballot because counties must pay for elections anyway. “We do not believe it is a waste of time to go out into the community and provide an opportunity for residents to be heard. We do not think it is a waste of energy to discuss your concerns and listen to your frustrations. We do not think it is a waste of money to exercise one of our fundamental rights under the constitution — the right to vote. We do not think it is audacious to stand up to a government that has failed to live up to our expectations,” commissioners said in the release.
Jennifer Finch, spokeswoman for the Board of Weld County Commissioners, said four county employees have spent time on the 51st state initiative: Finch, the county attorney and two people in the finance department. She said the county attorney has spent about four hours working on the ballot language and other issues, she has spent about 10 hours answering press calls, writing press releases and updating the commissioners’ web page and the finance employees have spent about 3.5 hours responding to the board’s questions.
Commissioners have also spent time answering questions, participating in interviews and providing information to the public, but that is what they are elected to do, Finch said — talk to their constituents and try to answer their questions. “I certainly don’t think it’s a waste of energy ever to discuss concerns, listen to concerns from constituents,” said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer.
She said the ultimate way for Weld residents to show their support or distaste for the measure is to vote this November, which is why commissioners chose to put it on the ballot.
Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher has said he expects the initiative to pass in Weld County by a 60-40 margin. Commissioners said out of more than 400 people who spoke at the four public meetings they held to hear residents’ opinions on the proposal, about 60 people, or 15 percent, spoke flatly against it.
More 51st state initiative coverage here.