Letters From the West

Colorado counties vote to form a new state is Idaho next?

Another 51st state movement survived at the ballot box Tuesday, in at least in five rural counties in Colorado.

Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Phillips, Washington, and Yuma counties voted to form a new state North Colorado. Unfortunately for them six other counties rejected the idea including the one with the most population, Weld County. For the record, this measure had less chance of succeeding than the effort by western states, including Idaho, to get the federal government to turn over public land.

Ultimately Congress has to approve it and why would senators dilute their vote by adding two more from a very rural area?

But it’s a political movement with a long tradition in the United States where rural, often distant areas feel themselves overwhelmed by the more populated sections. This vote was driven by the Democratically-control Colorado Legislature’s restrictions on guns, and on oil and gas development.

In the 1987 effort to create North Idaho, petitioners sought to break the timber-dependent north from the ag dependent south of Idaho. Their complaints were road funding among other issues but it died.

In the 1970s several Michigan legislators and Wisconsin newspapermen pushed for a State of Superior to cover the northern areas of those two states. With huge swaths of public land and only two-lane roads connecting the region with the southern powerful parts of the two states, the campaign found fertile ground for about two years before reality set in.

North Idahoans still talk about seceding when they grumble about issues like timber, mining and taxes. But 20 years of road improvements, especially Whitebird Hill between Riggins and Grangeville have reduced the pressure.

The Republican takeover of North Idaho also reduced the pressure since the 1987 effort was pushed by Democrats.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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