As the Political Divide Grows, It Makes Sense to Redraw State Boundaries
By José Niño
In the coming decade of heightened political tension, cartographers may have to make serious adjustments to the borders of several American states.
The American left’s desire to micromanage activities ranging from people defending themselves to relying on cheap, nonrenewable energy sources has provoked a significant backlash. And it’s not just manifesting itself in the form of an average political protest or a regular election to vote the proverbial bums out.
Several states are already witnessing their rural counties attempting to separate from the rest of their state. On previous occasions, I’ve showcased the examples of Greater Idaho and a number of Virginia counties wanting to join West Virginia as signs of how burgeoning discontent among citizens of blue states is being channeled into separatism. Weld County, which has been trying to break away from Colorado in the last decade, is no different.
Back in 2013, Weld County County commissioner Sean Conway suggested that the county provides more oil and gas revenue to the state than it gets in return for public services such as roads and schools. Shortly thereafter, Conway and other dissatisfied activists in northern Colorado counties attempted to create a new state via ballot initiative. Although voters only approved the initiative in five of the eleven counties, it did mark a shift in the political conversation. The idea of politically embittered residents of northern Colorado separating from the state would no longer be seen as a fringe thought experiment.
Movements to have Weld County leave Denver’s orbit have not gone away. In 2020, Christopher Richards registered Weld County Wyoming, a political committee with the ostensive goal of putting an initiative on the November 2021 ballot that could fundamentally reshape politics in northern Colorado. Under this initiative, the Weld County Commission would be given the power to consider a potential annexation by its northern neighbor, Wyoming.
The reasoning behind Weld County Wyoming’s initiative for Weld County to relocate to Wyoming is that Colorado’s northern neighbor has a more amenable political environment for the citizens of Weld County. For example, Wyoming has no income tax and regulates oil and gas in a less energetic manner than its southern neighbor.
The latter point has become a pressing matter for Weld County residents in recent years. Colorado’s state government recently passed legislation that adds another layer of regulations to oil and gas, while Boulder County went above and beyond by enacting the most stringent regulations on fracking in the Rocky Mountain State.
Natural gas is a key economic driver for Weld County and any full-fledged push toward completely phasing out natural gas would have a devastating effect on Weld County’s economy. The Wattenberg field, the fourth-largest oil field in the US in terms of proven oil reserves, is largely situated in Weld County. Additionally, it is the ninth-largest gas field in terms of proven natural gas reserves. Weld County is the source of approximately nine out of every ten barrels of new crude oil produced in the Colorado.
Curiously, Colorado was not as leftist in previous decades, and in that period, it would have been doubly absurd to fathom the idea of parts of the state floating the concept of attaching themselves to Wyoming. Colorado gained notoriety for voters approving the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment in 1992, which constrains state and local governments’ ability to tax and spend without the approval of voters. Colorado was also one of the first states to allow law-abiding citizens to concealed carry on university campuses, even adopting the law before states like Texas.
However, political winds have blown dramatically left over the course of two decades. Electoral and policy trends have borne this out. Colorado is generally viewed as a safe blue state and has gone to Democrats by comfortable margins in presidential elections since 2008.
On gun policy, Colorado’s lurch toward statism has been remarkable. Following the Aurora movie theater shooting of 2012, Colorado politicians have made gun control a major pillar of their political agenda. In the immediate aftermath of the Aurora massacre, Colorado successfully passed high-capacity magazine bans and universal background checks. A few years later the Colorado state government passed other items on Gun Control Inc.’s wish list such as red flag gun confiscation orders (2019) and a mandatory firearm storage law (2021).
Due to the rapid cultural transformation of Colorado’s electorate, Colorado state politics seem alien to Weld County voters nowadays. Colorado has one of the most college-educated populations in the country, occupying the fifth-place ranking on WalletHub’s list of the most educated states. To boot, it enjoys first place for the percentage of people who are associate’s degree holders and second place for the percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees nationwide. It’s no secret that universities are the indoctrination centers that have been effective in churning out professionals who hold leftist beliefs running the spectrum from managerial leftism to outright Marxism.
On a micro level, the educational and political differences between Weld County and the more populated counties of Colorado also typify these trends. Boulder (62 percent), Larmier (47 percent), and Denver (49 percent) Counties all have higher percentages of individuals twenty-five years and older who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is in contrast to Weld County, where only 27.5 percent possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Further, these areas are more affluent than Weld County. Boulder ($46,826), Larimer ($37,363), and Denver ($43,770) Counties enjoy higher per capita incomes than Weld County ($31,793).
Denver and Weld County are political worlds apart at the federal level. Weld County was a safe win for Donald Trump in 2020, when voters pulled the lever for the real estate magnate by a comfortable 58 percent–40 percent margin. On the other hand, Denver was a blowout for Joe Biden; voters decisively went for the former Delaware senator, by a margin of 82 percent to 17 percent. Larimer County was a safe Biden win (56 percent to 40 percent), while Boulder was a landslide victory, with Biden winning the county 79 percent to 19 percent.
Some conservatives may lament the state’s political transformation, but not all is lost, as evidenced by Weld County’s growing push to join Wyoming. In fact, Colorado’s new political changes present novel opportunities for jurisdictional reconfigurations. Most blue states are dominated by one or a few metro centers, surrounded by massive swathes of semirural/rural areas that are culturally distinct from major population centers. This growing bifurcation transpiring nationwide is fertile soil for a decentralization revolution.
Separatism is in the air in America, and we should celebrate it. Discarding the starry-eyed fantasy of unity is the first step in acclimating Americans to the idea of radical decentralization. People are already fleeing blue states and sorting themselves out in states with like-minded individuals. Realistically speaking, this will be a drawn-out process marked by stumbling blocks along the way, but it must start somewhere.
Reprinted with permission by Mises Institute
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