Colorado has never been a state that existed in harmony with itself. In our long history, we have seen our Counties and Cities go to war with each other, and regional politics at the Statehouse is normal. We have three distinct cultural regions: the plains, the mountains and the front range, and it has been a marriage of convenience and necessity, not love and joy, that kept our State together.
Denver and the Front Range always had more population and industry than the rest of Colorado, which gave the region greater power, and anchored the three regions: both the Plains and the Mountains depended upon the Front Range for industry that could not be economically developed in their rural areas.
The capital of Colorado naturally was formed along the Front Range where both the Mountains and the Plains went for business. The Territory of Jefferson was governed from Auraria, and when Colorado Territory was made, it was governed from Golden. Later, Golden, Central City, Pueblo and Denver – all along the Front Range – vied for the State Capital.
Though both Mountains and Plains had anxiety of being dominated by the Front Range, it was thought that through a good constitution, the Front Range might not dominate the rest of the State.
A Colorado Constitution established a unique form of government. A democracy of regions and a democracy of the People. A way for regions to self-govern, under the constraints of only the Colorado and US Constitutions was devised.
While autonomy was granted to any town or city that demanded “home rule,” the Colorado constitution went further to grant the right of any 3 persons in a “special purpose” corporation (a quasimunicipality under the direct supervision of the Governor’s office) to develop the resources of land and water through agriculture, industry or mining. And, going even further, rights were given to the People to form municipalities for the purpose of home rule, or of entire Counties to form municipalities for home rule, or of home ruled municipalities to form counties, or counties to become home-ruled municipalities.
The ultimate authority, of a home-ruled city-county, has only been exercised twice, in Denver and in Broomfield. Denver’s desire to be free of Arapahoe County was aimed to enable expansionist ambitions both east and west, as Denver undertook a land and water grab through special purpose companies, such as David Moffat’s rail and water companies, and Denver Water. Denver went so far as to enact a colonial policy, establishing new towns and cities for the purpose of supplying Denver with resources and tax revenue. Denver stopped for no one, and even got into a lengthy fight with the Federal Government in an attempt to take Federal resources. Incidentally, Denver so abused its rights that the State amended the constitution to constrain Denver by the Poundstone Amendment in 1974.
But Broomfield was different. Broomfield existed in four counties, Boulder, Weld, Adams and Jefferson. It crossed 4 different court districts. Self-governance was impossible, with each neighborhood sometimes having much different laws and taxes. And perceived hostility from Boulder County was irritating. In many ways, the inability to self-govern is similar to the plight of many Eastern Counties today. After voters approved Broomfield’s incorporation to city-county, it became the smallest county in Colorado.
The constitutional liberty of autonomous regional governance kept the peace and unity of Colorado until July 23, 2013 when Cheyenne County prepared to ask its citizens whether they desired secession from Colorado. Weld County had begun organizing the secession effort some months before, with upwards of 30 Eastern counties considering similar measures to Cheyenne County by July.
This secession movement was a response to the dominance of the Front Range in the State Legislature.
No efforts were made by secessionists toward home rule because it was felt at the time that the Constitution of Colorado itself was too constraining to oil and gas development, agricultural industry and the freedom to bear arms, and concerns were raised too in the liberty granted by the constitution to women so they might obtain abortions to pregnancy, and other social issues.
While the Denver Post and other news agencies believed the secessionsists to be confused, and indeed, the Herald staff also was at a loss to find anything in the Colorado Constitution that inhibited the ambitions of the secessionists had they sought instead home rule, when questions were raised to this end, it became quickly apparent that home rule was insufficient because of intangible reasons.
Framing the question in terms of a divorce, leaders of the movement described the situation as Eastern Colorado simply growing estranged from the rest of Colorado. There were irreconcilable differences, and it was time for Eastern Colorado to move on with life and start seeing other people. In fact, it was not the Front Range that irked the secessionists so much as Denver and Boulder, and proposals were considered also to simply force the Denver/Boulder area to seceed from Colorado, leaving everyone else behind.
What had caused this anger was the mistreatment of rural Sheriffs by Denver and Boulders’ legislators during a debate on gun legislation, where some Sheriffs were told their testimony simply did not matter, some legislators slept through testimony, or got up and left to avoid hearing testimony. What had been an irritating difference in opinion quickly developed into a question of whether Denver/Boulder, to use the Divorce analogy, still loved rural Colorado.
No one will deny that the honeymoon is over in Colorado. The secessionists, bent on leaving Denver/Boulder, are open to even joining another State rather than remain in a loveless marriage with a Denver/Boulder they perceive to be dependent upon Eastern Colorado’s resources.
Denver/Boulder has been quick to respond and try to show Eastern Colorado how difficult independence would be. They would need water, power, airports, rail yards, industry and other things from Denver/Boulder. But Eastern Coloradoans believe they can build such industry on their own.
While an apology from Denver/Boulder might yet go far, none has been forthcoming because Denver/Boulder is confident that Eastern Colorado needs them.
In response to a facebook solicitation from the leaders of the secessionist movement for reasons why they should remain part of Colorado, I asked if they wouldn’t consider attempting home rule first? The question was deleted. Administrators denied it was policy to delete questions or censor discussion. However, with emotions rising on both sides, it does appear that even questions from the Press and public are regarded in hostility, and dialogue is no longer possible.
How would home rule be established? A petition of 5% of the landowning residents of a city or town or an ordinance of the city or town raises the question to the voters, who then can adopt it. If Cheyenne County, or the People of Cheyenne County, were to establish one or several municipalities in unincorporated areas, they could then become home-ruled at the same time as their incorporation. Possibly even under the existing County governance structure. The procedure is outlined in Article XX, Section 9 of the Colorado Constitution.
With no other State granting as much liberty to its people as Colorado, it will remain to be seen whether the new State formed, if it is formed, will grant more liberty than Colorado did, or in a reactionary measure against Denver/Boulder’s excessive use of that liberty, create a more constraining constitution.
There does exist a right of people to self-govern, and the spirit of our Colorado Constitution binds us to encourage Eastern Colorado toward their goals, if it is their goal to be a separate state. But the Herald remains surprised and disappointed that more effort to engage Eastern Colorado through respectful dialogue has not been publically undertaken. Truly, our State must have fallen to pieces long before Cheyenne County decided to consider secession. If we do not continually renew our bonds of union with love and compassion for each other, no matter our region, and respect our minority populations, we will have no Colorado worth keeping.
A marriage cannot last only on convenience and necessity and it will be impossible for Eastern Colorado to follow in Broomfield’s footsteps while embroiled in so much hate for Denver/Boulder.