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51st State Supporters Get Mixed Message At The Polls

Nathan Heffel
Standing in the restored Fort Lupton, Weld County Commissioners Barbara Kirkmeyer and Sean Conway discuss returns following Tuesday's election.

Just about half of the 11 Colorado counties with secession questions Tuesday gave approval for their county commissioners to continue with the effort. Voters soundly rejected the idea in Weld County where the movement began in July.

The Weld County Commissioners were the faces of the secession movement, penning editorials and appearing in the media. In the end, over half of their county voted against going any further in pursuit of of a 51st State.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said voters sent a very clear message Tuesday.

“This is one of the solutions they don’t want us to pursue,” Conway said. “We must respect the will of the voters; I said that beforehand, one way or the other. So what we have in front of us is some other ideas that have come out of this process… From a Weld County perspective, we will be looking at other alternatives as we move forward.”

The maverick spirit behind the secession movement in Weld County was symbolized by the location for their watch party, the reconstructed historic Fort Lupton. Inside the large main hall, animal heads adorned the walls as a fire roared in the fireplace. With no TVs, results were written on a large whiteboard.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

Sitting at a table near the back of the main hall, Fort Lupton resident Doug Aden and his wife Terry were cautiously optimistic. “Well, I think it’s an opportunity for us to send a message down to Denver to let them know that they’re going a little too fast on a lot of legislation,” Aden said.

Legislation that included tougher gun laws and a mandate for more renewable energy production from rural electric cooperatives were often cited as examples of a growing disconnect between the state’s rural and urban areas.

Credit Nathan heffel / KUNC
51st State supporters gather at the historic Fort Lupton Tuesday evening.

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said despite Tuesday’s losses, the movement is just beginning. “[It’s] kind of that first step, [the] first chapter in the book kind of thing,” Kirkmeyer said.

“We gave people the opportunity to voice their concerns, to voice their discontent. And, like I said, in four short months, we’ve come a pretty long way.”

Alternatives to secession have recently been floated including an idea proposed by Phillips County.

It advocates for more representation in the state Senate for rural counties. Another proposal would explore the creation of an advocacy group similar to what Club 20 does for the Western Slope.

Fort Lupton Resident Doug Aden had hoped more counties would have approved the secession question, but he’s happy that democracy worked.

“Oh yeah, you know anytime you can let your voice be heard…you’ve made some progress,” Aden said.

Unofficial returns from Tuesday’s election show Elbert, Lincoln, Logan, Sedgewick and Moffat counties joined Weld in voting against secession. Residents in Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Phillips, Washington and Yuma counties voted yes.

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