Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Coloradans want to secede, but is their gripe primarily cultural or economic?

Jack Healy's front-page story in today's New York Times touches on both issues as driving the disgruntlement that has led 11 counties in northern and eastern Colorado to decide to engage in a "quixotic vote" next month on secession from the state.  The headline is "Fed Up on the Prairie, and Voting on Seceding from Colorado," and the story touches on both cultural issues (guns and family) and economic issues (poor funding of schools, roads and hospitals).  I love the lede:
The Old West has decided it is fed up with the New West.
The story features many references to "rural" and rural-urban differences.  And Healy certainly found some, well, extreme views in Cheyenne Wells, his dateline for the story, in the far eastern part of the state. Take those of Cheyenne Wells convenience store owner Lyle Miller: 
I would’ve never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal.  I’m afraid for my grandchildren. I want them to have the same heritage I had.
Jeffrey Hare, who leads the the 51st State Initiative that supports secession and the formation of what might be called New Colorado, has this to say:
People think this is a radical idea.  It’s really not. What we’re attempting to do is restore liberty.
Gun rights are a theme throughout the story, with the suggestion that this movement really took hold after Colorado passed gun control laws earlier this year, laws that led to the recall of two state senators last month, as discussed here and here.  In relation to the gun issue in particular, Healy features Rod Pelton, a Cheyenne County commissioner whose ancestors moved here during the Dust Bowl era:
The alert tone on his cellphone is a gun loading and firing, and he believes in the possibility of New Colorado, no matter how long it takes. “There’s going to be a revolution of some kind,” he said. “This is the peaceful way to go about it.”
The new state people like Miller and Hare envision would, as the prior quote suggests,
cherish the farm towns and conservative ideals that people here say have been lost in Denver’s glassy downtown lofts or Aspen’s million-dollar ski condos. It would be called New Colorado, or maybe North Colorado — a prairie bulwark against the demographic changes and urbanization that are reshaping politics and life across this and other Western states.
But some residents and politicians--even conservative ones--do not favor secession.  They have practical questions about highways and parks and water rights.  Some Healy interviews suggest that secession is virtually a part of the American dream:
Beyond the logistics, they say, the urge to break free and scratch out a more perfect union runs as deep as an aquifer in American life, and has often been more complex than a breach between liberals and conservatives.
In this vein, the story notes other secession battles, past and present.  You can read the recent Calfiornia history on this, past and present, here and here.  A secession movement involving Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota is mentioned here.

The dateline for Healy's story, Cheyenne Wells, has a population of just 846, and is the county seat of Cheyenne County, population 1,836.  It seems that Healy may have selected the least populous and least dense of the 11 counties to feature (though that is not easily confirmed amidst the government shut down, which means Census data is not available).  Healy notes that the population density in the county is 1 person per square mile and that the county has suffered extreme population loss over the past several decades.  

Don't miss the accompanying slide show with several photos of Mr. Pelton and Cheyenne Wells.   

As odd as some of the quotes in this story seem, I appreciate that the New York Times made an effort at a balanced report, letting Cheyenne Wells residents express themselves in their own words and noting issues such as state funding for schools, roads and hospitals.   Indeed, even Colorado Governor John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado says he is taking the movement seriously:    
There are enough people that feel their views and their opinions aren’t being considered that I think that’s a serious problem, and I take it very seriously.  
An earlier post about the loss of rural clout in state legislatures is here.  

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