A flaw in the system

Six Colorado counties have voted to add an initiative to the November ballot to secede from the state. Five more counties are predicted to add the initiative and 20 more counties are discussing the possibility.

Their plan is to form state number 51 called North Colorado.

The group leading the charge for secession, 51st State Initiative, is primarily made of county commissioners in predominantly Republican counties.

While the idea of forming a new state seems outlandish to a modern sensibility, the last state seceded from their parent state was West Virginia in 1863. When you look at the basic reasons the Colorado counties are citing the difference in time doesn’t matter much.

The basic idea behind West Virginia breaking from the rest of the state was a divide in political representation. West Virginia could really have been called North Virginia both because of the actual geographic position of the state and because the political sensibilities of the residents were more in line with their northern neighbors than their southern statesmen. We tend to demonize the entire Civil War period because of the overtones of institutionalized racism, but in reality there were other lifestyle issues in play at the time, rural versus urban, agricultural versus industrial. The citizens of, what is now, West Virginia believed they were not being adequately represented because, as a minority compared to the rest of the state’s population, they were completely ignored by their state government. On a larger scale this was a similar complaint of all of the southern states.

The current members of The 51st State Initiative are claiming similar problems. Colorado is politically dominated by Democrats from large population centers like Denver. The seceding counties are claiming the distribution of representation is so skewed their voices have not been considered in matters of gun control legislation and resource development policy. The group further contends new animal cruelty laws are damaging to livestock production. The topics of animal care and energy resource development are particularly important to these counties because those industries are centered in that region of the state.

The protesting counties believe regardless of population density they are larger stakeholders and experts in the industries affected by the stricter regulation, and therefore deserve a stronger voice.

Again secession may seem like a drastic step, but is it?

Power County is not that different from the northern Colorado counties. The majority of Power County lies in District 28. This area includes all of Power County and most of Bannock County, with a small carve-out for Pocatello, District 29.

Legislative boundaries are drawn to include a specific number of people. The more people are spread out the larger the geographical area a district takes up.

Historically the distribution of representation based on population works for densely populated areas like the eastern side of the country, but in geographically rural states like Idaho and Colorado the potential for the “tyranny of the majority” to take effect is much more pronounced.

It is not difficult to see this effect here in Idaho. While District 28 covers the lion’s share of two counties, Ada County alone has eight legislative districts meaning Boise has 700 percent more representation for about a third smaller geographical area. This has prompted the proliferation of the witticism “The Great State of Ada.”

Power County is a great microcosm in which to observe this effect. As a rural county our needs differ greatly from urban areas like Boise, but even from other rural areas. In Power County our concerns are strongly centered on row-crop production. As you get farther into Bannock County grazing becomes a much larger concern.

Currently our senator and one representative are from McCammon, a town that is more heavily dependent on pass-through tourism to Lava Hot Springs, which is the home of our other representative, than Power County is on any other tourist location. Moreover the needs of Inkom are more directly linked to those of District 29 so the needs of Power County may not be as pressing when setting priorities based on the criterion of votes needed for reelection.

The most recent battle over personal property tax on businesses highlights the problem. Locally our legislators were knowledgeable and active in the fight to retain a tax that supports a majority of Power County operations and services. At the same time Guthrie, Packer and Andrus were very blunt about the lack of pull Power County has in the grand scheme of things. Their bluntness was needed to keep the challenges facing Power County in context.

I believe there is a point where common sense and reason says geography must be a factor. The simple solution is to amend the state laws to include an area limitation. The simple wording of “Legislative districts are not to be greater in geographical size than…” insert the agreed upon number square miles), would fix the problem of lumping such drastically disparate areas together.

The counties in Colorado are not deluded into believing they will actually be forming a new state. They admit their attempts at secession are an attempt to bring attention to their plight. The process does not end with a single vote. The state legislature and federal government have to give their okay as well.

The same can be said for bringing up the issues that face Power County. The likelihood of a redistricting of Power County is very slim especially considering the changes it would tip off in other areas of the state. District 8 is the largest district in terms of area in the state, covering four counties. It just never hurts to remind the world at large of the potential pitfalls that may befall the unobservant.

As the story progresses in Colorado and the effort picks up steam, as a nation we should be thinking about the true problem: Where to place the star on the flag.

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