LINCOLN — The call to create a new state of “Northern Colorado” is apparently not catching fire across the border in Nebraska.
At least not yet.
Earlier this month a group of rural county commissioners in northeast Colorado discussed seceding from that state to create one that's more friendly to agriculture and the development of oil and gas wells.
One leader of the divorce-from-Denver movement said he has gotten a couple of emails of interest from Nebraskans and Kansans about the proposed new state.
But officials in southwest Nebraska and the Panhandle say they haven't heard much interest in seceding and joining their Colorado neighbors.
In the past there has been talk of the Panhandle breaking off from Nebraska and joining Wyoming. And State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala and other area officials say they understand the frustration expressed by the northern Coloradans about conflicting views with urban folks.
“They're no different than we are,” said Imperial, Neb., farmer Mike Bauerle. “Lincoln and Omaha can run the state. They have the votes.”
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said that a few years ago he drafted a bill to cede the Republican River Valley of southwest Nebraska to Kansas.
He said the bill — which he never introduced — grew out of frustration with Nebraska's lack of progress in resolving water issues that involve the Republican River and compliance with a compact with Kansas.
Christensen said he didn't introduce his bill because it didn't have enough support, though he thinks that there are people in his southwestern Nebraska district who wouldn't mind joining a new state of “Northern Colorado.”
Maybe it would be called “Colonebkan”?
“There's enough disgruntled people with water issues, with the liberal issues that are going on that come from a liberal university and a metropolis in the east,” the state senator said. “If they could get a more conservative state, I'm not so sure you couldn't get support out here.”
The “liberal” issues cited by Christensen included the decision to provide health insurance to unmarried, live-in partners of University of Nebraska employees.
In northern Colorado, the movement to secede was sparked by a growing disconnect between urban dwellers and long-time rural residents, according to Doug Rademacher, a rural Longmont, Colo., farmer and a member of the Weld County Board.
“The Denver and Boulder areas don't carry our same vision and values,” Rademacher said. “It's gotten much, much worse in the past seven to 10 years.”
He cited efforts to curb fracking, a technique that has turned dormant oil wells into moneymakers in his area, and a bill passed by the Colorado Legislature this year to require rural electric cooperatives to utilize renewable energy, such as wind power, for 20 percent of their power.
“We've just seen a huge influx of people from out of state, mostly from California, that bring their ideology with them that doesn't fit,” he said. “They destroyed California, and now they want to destroy Colorado.”
A Denver-based political observer, Eric Sondermann, said there's definitely an urban-rural culture clash and a Republican-Democratic political clash going on in his state.
It's no longer a Republican stronghold; Democrats control both houses of the Colorado Legislature and the governor's mansion.
But Sondermann said the secession movement is more political symbolism than reality, though it has generated a lot of publicity.
“It's real as political theater,” he said, “but it's not real in terms of seeing a 51st star on the American flag.”
“Maybe it's a way to heal the football rivalry,” Sondermann added, if part of Nebraska joined up with Colorado.
Rademacher, from his farm outside of Longmont, begged to differ. He said representatives from six to 10 rural counties in northeast and eastern Colorado are expected to attend a meeting Monday in Akron, Colo., to discuss seceding.
The meeting will likely determine how many counties join the movement, he said, but he expects that Weld County will put the secession question on the ballot anyway, to gauge public opinion.
“From what we hear, it's very encouraging that other counties want to move forward, too,” Rademacher said.
If voters in several counties approve secession, they would ask the Colorado Legislature to petition the U.S. Congress to create a new state. Rademacher said he doubts that state lawmakers would do that, so a second option would be to put the secession issue up for a statewide vote.
“Statewide, I'd give us a 50-50 chance,” he said. Rademacher, though, admitted that creating a new state would face multiple challenges and roadblocks, such as where to locate a state capital and what to do about existing state water rights.
The last time a new state was successfully carved out of an existing state was during the Civil War. That's when West Virginia won congressional approval to create a new state after Virginia left the Union to join the Confederacy.
In 1982 a poll done by the Scottsbluff Star-Herald found that 85 percent of respondents favored the Panhandle leaving Nebraska for Wyoming. High property taxes were the main driver.
In 1992 voters in Morton County in southwest Kansas voted nearly 9-to-1 to leave the Sunflower State.
Schilz, the Nebraska senator, said the issue of seceding from Nebraska comes up in discussions from time to time in his area.
He said people in his rural district still gripe about high property taxes, but he questions whether seceding from Nebraska into a more rural, new state would reduce them. And he said the idea has generated little enthusiasm.
“No one's shown up on my doorstep with torches and pitchforks yet,” Schilz said.