Secession* is a quintessentially American tradition, if not ideal. From the colonies to the South, Americans have not only balked at perceived outside oppression, we have sought to separate, violently if necessary, from those violating our rights to liberty.
Some in counties in northeastern Colorado are just the latest to attempt to “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” and form a new state. Though not a violent movement, this attempt at separation should hold intriguing developments in store, as well as pose some fascinating questions about government for us to ponder.
First, a little background on the “Northern Colorado” movement for those unfamiliar with the story: pushed to the edge by numerous liberal state government measures such as bills that would make gun control stricter, county commissioners in conservative northeastern Colorado finally decided to act when the state legislature considered measures that would have curtailed the oil and gas industries that are so vital to that region’s economy. The commissioners discussed the possibility of putting the question of secession to voters on this year’s ballot. That was June. Last month, Yuma, Cheyenne, Sedgwick, Logan, Weld, Phillips, Washington, Kit Carson counties all approved secession questions for November’s ballots.
Of course, even in the unlikely case that these pass the first time around, the Constitution prescribes further hurdles before a new state can be formed. The relevant section reads:
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
The odds of the Colorado state legislature approving the separation is slim to none. The odds of the U.S Congress taking up and approving the new state are even smaller. Further, some counties in Nebraska and Kansas have been mentioned as possible additions to Northern Colorado, adding to the number of state legislatures needed to approve the separation.
The county commissioners, though perhaps overly passionate in their initial actions, realize the difficulty of their task and are now looking to channel the momentum into reforming representation in Colorado to better include the interests of the northeastern region. That discussion in and of itself should be an interesting one to follow.
Additionally, the question of how representation should best be constituted has been a discussion of American political thoughts since the ratification debate. What does a section of a state unacknowledged by the state government do to make their voice heard? Do the residents move? What do conservative regions of California do, for example, when their taxes are used to fund idiotic programs that bankrupt the state? Where is their taxation with representation? Is it just a congressman in Sacramento whose vote will be ever ineffective?
Certainly the Founders recognized and invoked a right to separate from political bodies repressing their rights. However, they were careful to limit that right with prudence. If evils are sufferable, they argued, one should not abolish the forms to which one is accustomed. (To do so would not be conservative.) However, in the case where there is evidence of the pursuit of absolute despotism, separation is justified. I think that even the county commissioners recognize that a contention of absolute despotism in this situation would be hard to sustain.
At the same time, a new state of like-minded counties from Colorado (and Nebraska and Kansas) would hardly be revolution in the forms of government, society and culture to which residents are accustomed.
I personally would submit that an attempt to secede should be a last resort (as the Founders stressed their movement for independence was). Overusing a power tends to render it ineffective. Still, I would certainly like to see a debate on its merits, as well as those of other reforms to representation. I may from time to time offer my further thoughts on this topic in my “Corner” here, along with some worthy updates on Northern Colorado. Reasonable reforms to preserve the republic are always worth consideration, so by all means, submit them.
*I do understand that there is some debate over the correct term in each case. For simplicities sake, I will simply use secession and avoid the distinctions for the purposes of this post.