Moffat County divided over secession issue

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— County secession is not a new concept for rural Colorado. The idea has been floated for decades in living rooms and over beers. But recently, some counties — including Moffat — have been taking serious efforts toward withdrawing from the state.

Moffat County commissioners will vote Tuesday about whether they want to ask voters about seceding from Colorado.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement to the Craig Daily Press that this undermines the value of Colorado’s diverse political culture.

“There may be a political agenda behind secession I don't get because when I think of Colorado, it means all of our diverse communities and people,” he said.

John Kinkaid brought up the 51st State Initiative’s motto — to unite dissatisfied Colorado counties to secede and form a 51st state — at this week’s Moffat County Commission meeting. After that discussion, he decided he would write ballot language before the Sept. 6 deadline for Moffat County’s election to give voters the option to secede.

“The discussion kind of took a life of its own,” Kinkaid said. “I thought that letting people vote on it, and the discussion that would take place from now and then, would work. It looks like we’ve hit a nerve.”

One of those nerves might belong to Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe, who said he didn’t think Kinkaid was following due process with this proposal.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to the proposal. What I’m opposed to is it being done behind closed doors without open discussion,” Grobe said. “I am against it because of the way it was done. That’s how I always governed. Talk to everybody.”

Kinkaid said that he had not made plans to put this on the ballot beforehand but that the quickly coming ballot deadline drove the inertia of the discussion.

“People shouldn’t feel like I’m trying to ramrod this through. Not at all,” he said. “I just want people to have a voice.”

But Grobe still thinks the commission and the community are out of the loop. Kinkaid dropped off the draft for the ballot language to the Craig Daily Press on Wednesday, and Grobe said he didn’t see it until Thursday.

“See, that’s what irritates me — just that this comes out before the commissioners even see it — because he’s speaking for the board of Moffat County commissioners,” Grobe said. “I just will have my say Tuesday morning, and how it votes out is all I can do.”

Grobe said he was concerned this being on the ballot could jeopardize efforts to get DOLA grants, which is state money.

“We have a big $6 million project going forward: Shadow Mountain. If we don’t get a DOLA grant for that, it’s dead in the water,” he said.

Mayor Terry Carwile also spoke against the proposal.

“I’ve been a resident of the great state of Colorado for over 50 years, and I’m proud to say that,” he said, adding that the proper approach is to “foster productive relationships with colleagues at the state level.”

The likelihood that the secession would happen is near impossible, Carwile said.

“The prospect of that happening would be nil. I wonder if any thought had been given to it and the mechanics of it,” he said.

Since the announcement, Kinkaid has spoken about secession on the "Amy Oliver Show," a local radio program, and it has been distributed widely in publications throughout Wyoming and Colorado.

He has been getting praise for his actions. While Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said voting on secession would function more as a statement, he still thinks it’s a good idea.

“It could equalize the discussion,” Mathers said. “Maybe this will open some doors.”

Rick Barnes, of the Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots, said that it was prime time to take this sort of action and that he hoped secession could become a reality.

“I’m all for it. We got to get Denver to wake up if that’s what it takes,” he said. “We can get the process started and let them know that we’re through being messed with. We’re part of the state, too. Hopefully, the statement will be enough.”

Other community members are concerned about how this will make the county look to the rest of Colorado.

“It’s not the positive attention I think Moffat County deserves,” said Jo Ann Baxter, chairperson of the Moffat County Democrats. “If it does pass, then they made a commitment to spend money on something that is impractical and improbable.”

Hickenlooper said he was open to talk about rural Coloradans’ concerns.

“If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it is destructive. But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening,” he said.

Kinkaid said he wants to use this as a bargaining chip.

“I would be OK with a compromised solution. In a negotiation, you start with a strong position,” he said. “You don’t start with the least you’ll expect.”

Carwile said there were better ways to start a dialogue.

“You can still have a good discussion even if you don’t agree,” Carwile said. “You have to go and perform good service. You have to be a good ambassador to our community.”

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com

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