5:00am

Fri December 20, 2013
Politics

51st State Movement Now Looks To The Capitol

Colorado legislators may see a revival of the 51st state debate under the dome in 2014. The subject of national curiosity, the movement continues after stinging losses at the ballot box—although with far less fanfare.

Grace Hood reports for Morning Edition.

Only five out of 11 counties passed initiatives last November asking if county commissioners should pursue “becoming the 51st state of the United States of America.” It was a question that brought media outlets like The New York Times to the doorstep of far flung eastern Colorado locations like Cheyenne County.

Today, Cheyenne County Commissioner Rod Pelton says it’s a lot quieter.

Following the election, Pelton met with commissioners from the counties that passed initiatives: Kit Carson, Phillips, Washington and Yuma.

“There wasn’t any press in the room when we had our meeting,” said Pelton, referring to the ebbing interest.

Those counties sent a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper requesting a meeting to discuss how their constituents voted. They also want to address their concerns about guns, oil and gas regulations, and the growing urban-rural divide.

So far, Pelton says there’s been no response.

Hickenlooper has stepped up his outreach efforts along the Eastern Plains. In October, he met with local and county leaders in Greeley. The exchanges over issues were awkward.

But at least it’s a start.

“You can’t solve the problem without agknowledging it,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who attended the meeting.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

Even though voters rejected the proposal in his county, Conway says it achieved something important.

“We went from a failure to recognize the problem [in early June] to now, no debate that there is a problem,” Conway said. “The question now is how do we move forward to address that problem?”

The New Plan Going Forward

One solution could come from a bill that’s expected to be introduced during the 2014 legislative session by Republican State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. The Phillips County idea would propose a new makeup for Colorado’s house or senate that would allow each county a certain number of representatives.

Some political observers are less hopeful about the chances of the bill making it out of committee, citing a 1964 Supreme Court ruling they say prevents states from making such changes.

Overall the session is expected to bring a host of contentious issues. Front and center could be more proposed regulations on the oil and gas industry. Bills that are certain to be unpopular with politicians along the Eastern Plains.

Rod Pelton isn’t completely writing it off as a negative.

“All it will take is the legislature getting back into session and starting to try to pass the wrong types of bills, it will get people fired up again,” he said.

Colorado’s General Assembly will convene on Jan. 8, 2014.

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