Moffat County Commissioners Tom Mathers, from left, John Kinkaid and Chuck Grobe listened to community members voice their opinion on seceding from Colorado. The commissioners voted, 2-1, to put secession on the ballot at their Tuesday meeting. Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe was the only one who expressed dissent.
Moffat County Commissioners approve secession for November's ballot
Moffat County residents who want to secede from Colorado now have a chance to vote on the issue in November.
On Tuesday, Moffat County Commissioners approved a resolution that will stamp the ballot with the pressing question that many think is a great idea.
The commissioner room was overflowing with people who wanted to express their opinions — good and bad — about what seceding from Colorado means to them.
People from the community came in early for the meeting and the discussion lasted longer than the assigned 30 minutes.
“If we fail to do this, we’re doing nothing and rolling over, just saying, ‘OK, just do what you want.’ It needs to be a wake-up call to the state,” John Williams said.
County Commissioners Tom Mathers and John Kinkaid have been enthusiastic about the idea of a secession referendum since Kinkaid brought it up at last week’s meeting.
“I don’t have mixed emotions about this. I’ve been talking secession for years because I’ve seen at the state level we get nowhere,” Mathers said.
The commissioners voted, 2-1, to put secession on the ballot. The ballot language asks voters if they want to move forward with pursuing secession. If approved by voters, it would be a long process that would involve commissioners developing a proposal to bring before the state Legislature.
For secession to actually happen, a county proposal would need to be approved by the state Legislature, the governor, Congress and eventually the president, Kinkaid said.
Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe was the only commissioner who expressed dissent. While he said he wasn’t necessarily against the idea, he thought it was pushed forward too hastily.
“This came out of nowhere (last) Tuesday in general discussion. There’s a normal process in moving forward,” Grobe said. “We’re doing what we’re complaining about the liberals doing.”
The governor’s office responded to these concerns and said the secession idea was not the right way to handle the differences.
“We respect that some rural Coloradans are frustrated on some issues. At the same time, we look forward to building on the good things happening in all parts of Colorado,” director of communications for the Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office Eric Brown wrote in an email.
Some criticized the proposal because they said the public needed to be more educated about this before it went on the ballot.
This process proceeded without enough community education or input, said Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Lila Herod.
“As a county clerk, it seems pretty impulsive moving forward putting this on the ballot. It feels like we just borrowed another county’s language,” she said. “I think it deserves a little more thought than that.”
Grobe said putting something so divisive on the ballot could endanger the county’s chances at getting state money.
“I have serious concerns about funding — especially our DOLA grant for Shadow Mountain,” Grobe said. “If we’re voting to secede I don’t know what the DOLA board is going to do.”
The city and county have been working on improvements for Shadow Mountain in Craig, a subdivision that has serious pipe and sewage problems. Specifically, the Craig and Moffat County are asking the Department of Local Affairs to fund roughly $1.7 million of the $6.3 million of improvements needed.
But Mathers said that shouldn’t be motivation against putting secession to a vote.
“This isn’t about dollars it’s about principle,” he said.
The majority of those who were there to speak up voiced their support.
“If you put something on the ballot, that spurs the discussion. Let the people decide,” Tom Gray said.
Supporters of the proposal said discussion could take place leading up to the election.
“I think that getting this on the ballot is a good thing,” Chuck Lock said. “We probably don’t need to have a lot of discussions until it’s on a ballot.”
Frank Moe said that those invested in Moffat County and rural issues already have put effort into working with Front Range politicians.
“A lot of people have worked very hard talking to the state,” Moe said. “Of all of this, the most exciting thing is that this room is packed. We need more people involved.”
This could be a way to challenge legislators who had passed energy regulation and gun control laws. Williams hit on a point that many brought up throughout the long meeting — that the politics in the Denver area do not fit rural Colorado.
“The decisions that they made would not even affect their own counties. They were voting to affect us but not themselves,” Williams said.
But, community members challenged that there could be extra costs to consider after it’s on the ballot.
Jo Ann Baxter — a local Democrat — said she wanted the numbers behind this idea.
“If it passes, how much is this going to cost our taxpayers?” she said.
Baxter said she didn’t think it was an effective strategy to get the right attention from the state government.
“My greatest fear is that this won’t be the bargaining chip that the county thinks it will be. It will get some attention, but will it be the kind of positive attention we hope for?” she said. “I fear that it won’t, and we’ll be laughed at more than we will be considered as thoughtful people with points they want to make.”
Some said there are better ways to approach the political tension between the Western Slope and the Front Range.
“The question is how should we go about getting this changed. I think this is a waste of time and energy to put all of this into secession,” Lloyd Rollins said.
Gray, who had been a Moffat County commissioner, said this was Western Colorado’s chance to make a point.
“It’s not just Eastern Colorado out there, it’s the rural counties that feel disenfranchised. Colorado’s in a tough position if you’re in rural counties and that can be very frustrating,” he said. “I think this will spur discussion and there will be some key things that come up that will affect how everyone thinks.”
Kinkaid said he wanted this to get Denver’s attention.
“Many of us feel that we are marginalized at the state Capitol,” he said. “I believe that today, we here in Moffat County choose to stand up against this soft tyranny that rules at the state Capitol.”
This vote comes on the heels of eight other Colorado counties putting secession on their ballot, Kinkaid said. They are working toward the idea under the same movement, the 51st State Initiative, which is rounding up rural counties interested in seceding from Colorado and becoming their own 51st state.
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.
Editor's note: Andy Bockelman also contributed to this story.