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FORT LUPTON — On election night, speeches usually come in two flavors, victory or concession.
But watching results trickle in at the Fort Lupton Historic Park, supporters of the 51st State initiative vowed to fight on despite the loss in Weld County.
“This is the beginning; this is not the end,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. “Yesterday we said whether this passed in all of the counties or not, the problem was going to exist tomorrow. I think what’s been accomplished in the last three months is phenomenal. What we have awakened tonight, I believe, is a very important discussion that needs to happen not only here in northern Colorado, or Colorado as a whole, but across the country.”
The 51st state question was on the ballots in 11 Colorado counties, and and unofficial results show the question passing in five of those counties: Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Phillips, Washington and Yuma. But in Weld County, where more people weighed in on the issue than in all the other counties combined, 56 percent of voters rejected state secession according to final unofficial results.
Conway reminded the crowd that the measure was brought to the commissioners by concerned Weld County residents.
“From the beginning, citizens approached us. Many of you are here tonight. Thank you again for participating. Democracy is not a spectator sport; it requires all of us at times to step up and get out of our comfort zones,” Conway said. “Clearly, I think tonight, we have a mixed bag. We have some counties that are passing it. Clearly, some that are not. But the struggle continues tomorrow.”
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer agreed with Conway that the results only marked the close of one chapter of rural Colorado’s efforts to be heard at the statehouse.
“I think the really good idea we got out of this is the Phillips County proposal, and as I’ve stated to numerous other folks tonight, that isn’t just something that came out of the eastern plains,” Kirkmeyer said. “It is on the legislative agenda for CCI, which is that statewide organization of county commissioners. And I wish you all could have heard county commissioners throughout the state of Colorado speaking, whether they were from the western slope or the San Luis Valley or from El Paso County or the eastern plains or even Jefferson County, talking about the discontent and the disenfranchisement that their citizens are feeling in their counties as well, that they think that the representation needs to change.”
Kirkmeyer is referring to a plan advocated by Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer that calls on the staff of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) to find a sponsor for a bill to have the Colorado Legislature refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. The amendment, outlined in a press release from CCI, would change the representation in one of the state’s legislative houses from being population-based to having one representative from each county. Currently both houses of the Colorado legislature are population based, leaving “rural Colorado at a disadvantage,” according to the release.
“I have to agree with everything being said. This has been an exciting journey,” Weld County commissioner Douglas Rademacher said. “I like to say, if you’re not at the table, you’re usually what’s for dinner. And frankly, I think we have started a movement that will echoed across this country.”
Rademacher said the news about the Colorado secession movement made the news in Germany.
“We have lost our voice in rural America,” Rademacher said. “And it’s kind of fitting that we’re down here because 150 years ago, I’m sure some of the same conversations were being held: ‘how do we make ourselves known? How do we go forth from here. We’re in this fort in 1861 and where do we go from here?’ We’re asking the same questions today.”
Conway emphasized that the commissioners’ efforts were directed by citizen concerns.
“When the Weld County Commissioners were first approached about this, and we had our community meetings, we asked four basic questions. One, is there a disconnect? We were told ‘absolutely.’ Two, is that disconnect a problem for all of us, not just in rural areas but in urban areas? And it absolutely is,” Conway said. “And the other two questions we asked are, ‘Do you want to vote on this?’ And tonight the process worked. Citizens petitioned their government and asked to have something on the ballot, and all of our citizens participated. We had record turnout in these counties. This voter turnout tonight is phenomenal. If you look at the turnout results in the 11 counties that this was on the ballot, it was higher than the other counties around the state of Colorado. So clearly, we struck a chord up there about this discussion.”