(A worthy read once past the title – promoted by Colorado Pols)
I promised myself yesterday when I first received a call from a Republican friend who called to say, "OK, this was 'the straw" – the one that broke the camels back – that I wasn't going to divert any of my weekend time on this. But as I read through the comments on an earlier post – its something I couldn't stop pondering as someone with deep roots in rural Colorado.
As background, I'm a fifth-generation Coloradan. My great-great grandfather homesteaded in Phillips County in the late 1800's; the next five generations have called Yuma County home. I grew up on our family ranch in southern Yuma County and graduated from Idalia High School, a small, rural community of 100 people. I spent the vast majority of my adult life in Yuma county. We're blessed with an abundance of natural resources in Yuma County. Our most significant resource: a vast ocean of underground water known as the "Ogallala Aquifer'; a resource that turned the prairie sandhills north of the Republican River and the vast stretches of dryland wheat south of the river into one of the most productive breadbaskets in the United States.
We can grow almost anything in Yuma County. Our 250,000 acres of irrigated land made us the top producing corn count in the nation in the 70's. We're home to one of the world's largest feedlots – built first by the Monfort family. We have vast stretches of productive grassland and natural gas has played a significant economic role in our County for decades.
But just how did we come to a place where individual ingenuity and hard work could provide such an economic opportunity? When my great-grandfather hopped off the railroad in Holyoke, Colorado in the mid-1890's the infrastructure was nearly non-existent. Until the advent of FDR's 'New Deal' electricity was not widely available. Roads had to be built. Towns established. But thanks to our forefathers – and investments made by the American taxpayer we build a vast rural electric system. We built roads. We developed new seed. We discovered commercial fertilizers. We created markets. We created a lot of wealth. But that wealth wasn't built on the sole shoulders of our ancestors alone. It was in partnership with our government and the sound social policy necessary to keep us viable. Just since 1995, the proposed boundaries of the new state have received $3.64 billion in ag subsidies. In my home county of Yuma alone, we've received $537 million in the same time frame. We aren't independent. We are interdependent. Our rural electric infrastructure delivers energy today to both the agricultural and energy sectors on the prairie exists solely because of a mandate – and a system financially supported by the largess of the American taxpayer.
Josh Kron has a great article in The Atlantic titled, "Blue City, Red State" that is a must-read for any political junkie. It describes in great detail the partisan lines that once fell along regional bordes are increasingly found at a county level. Our Civil War was based on difference between states and regions; today, that divide has vanished. As quoted in the article,
"The new political divide is a stark division between cities and what remains of the countryside. Not just some cities and some rural areas, either — virtually every major city (100,000-plus population) in the United States of America has a different outlook from the less populous areas that are closest to it. The difference is no longer about where people live, it's about how people live: in spread-out, open, low-density privacy — or amid rough-and-tumble, in-your-face population density and diverse communities that enforce a lower-common denominator of tolerance among inhabitants."
I've read the editorial from the paper that shall not be named. My mind immediately went to 'the math'. The new, proposed state in its present form would have 340,156 residents. Weld County would account for 76.5% of the new states population. The remaining counties of Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Yuma, Washington and Kit Carson would round out the remaining 23.5%.
If Commissioner Conway's plan caught fire and spread south to the remaining eastern rural counties of Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lincoln, Prowers, Baca, Otero, Bent, Las Animas, Crowley and Huerfano you would add an additional 76,288 residents, and still Weld County holds 62.6% of the new state's population.
A new state that included the entirety of the eastern counties AND Weld County has roughly the same population as combined population of Aurora and Parker. The population of the entire eastern plains counties without Weld County is roughly equal to the City of Fort Collins or two cities the size of Loveland.
But perhaps the most interesting math to me was the voter registration in Weld County: only 40% of active voters are Republican. The balance is split between Unaffiliated's [who only trail the total Republican registration by 7,971 voters] and Democrats. Perhaps there is good reason why only three of the five Weld County Commissioners participated in the inaugural meeting.
It was reported in the editorial that the last straw for this new gang of secessionists was the signing in to law of SB252, the renewable energy mandate that affects Tri-State Generation, United Power and Intermountain Rural Electric Association. As I've said before, the 'real war' on rural Colorado isn't our Governor, legislature or special interests supporting the advancement of our energy-based economy – it's a Kansas coal plant. The founding counties to the proposed new state don't have a single rural cooperative in it's proposed territory that is obligated to producing a single kilowatt of clean energy under the new law. They are all exempt under the "100,000 meter rule". And they all operate under Tri-State's "All Requirements Contract" – a legal mechanism to keep them chained to the Tri-State generation assets.
But further, it's hard to look at the bare facts and do anything but scratch your head. I understand this exercise isn't intended to be based in any reality. It will land Commissioner Conway on Fox News at some point and we'll have new spokesman for what they define as 'rural values'. Someone had to fill the void that Dudley Brown seems to have left us with post-session.
Five our of eastern counties are already benefiting substantially from our continuing efforts to build a new economy around new energy. The $475 million Cedar Creek 2 wind project was dedicated nearly two years ago and sends it's energy to the Front Range. This is on the heels of the $500 million Cedar Creek 1 installation completed in 2007. Roughly $1 billion dollars of investment in Weld County spurred by a mandate put in to place by the people of Colorado in 2004 Just east in Logan County the Xcel Energy Peetz Wind Table Wind Farm accounts for nearly another billion dollars of investment and is the single largest property tax payer in Logan county. Going south to Lincoln County you'll discover the Cedar Point Wind Farm. A $500 million Xcel Energy project that is the largest single property tax payer in Lincoln County. Moving South and East you'll stumble up Colorado Green, Colorado's first wind project and the largest single taxpayer in Prowers County.
In Kit Carson, County the largest single property tax payer and employer is the Kit Carson County Correctional Facility - a state-supported, privately-run prison. The Sterling Correctional Facility, the largest prison in the Colorado Department of Corrections system is a vital component to the Logan County economy.
Why do I bring up wind farms and prisons? Because they represent a significant transfer of wealth from the Front Range urban dwellers to the rural citizens of those counties. The property tax being paid in those counties is in effect paid for by urban dwellers via their energy bill. The prisons are funded through the tax collections of every state citizen; Kit Carson County's largest tax base and employer is propped up by the tax-paying citizens of our entire state. That equates to a vast majority of their local dollars coming via the Denver-Boulder corridor.
What's a more plausible driver for Commissioner Conway isn't SB252. It isn't guns. It isn't rural values. It's the Niobrara. Vast gas and oil reserves untapped and awaiting development. An estimated 2 billion barrels of oil that could fund a new, rogue state. A state framework that would make any neo-con weak-kneed. Imagine the conservative utopia that could be achieved with a political lock on ideology and a treasury drowning in oil revenues. Because, you know, that works so well in the sands of the Middle East. And with Greeley as the capital of the new state, Governor Conway can rule with an iron fist.
Perhaps a better plan would be to let this new-state idea play out. But let's don't allow it to become a state – that means we will just have yet one more 'takers' from our national treasury. Let's insist it be a new 'nation'. Once in play, we can then 'liberate' them with our military and take their oil. Our forces will be met with people in the streets of Haxtun, Sedgwick, Otis, Limon, Bethune and Vernon throwing flowers at their feet. We can re-build their political system, oust the oil-drenched dictators and, just as we did in Iraq, provide Universal Health Care for all. And then build a permanent military base centrally located in Brush to keep the rogue leaders in their prairie foxholes.
But in more serious terms, this is akin to a sophmoric, high school rivalry. Every social equation needs an enemy. In my high school days we loved to hate the Liberty Knights, the Arickaree Indians and the Woodlin Mustangs. The Holyoke Dragons hated the Burlington Cougars and everyone hated the Wray Eagles in their wrestling hey-day. My once-distaste for athletes down US Hwy 36 corridor transcended into adult friendships. I just thought they were different from me and my team mates. I was wrong.