DENVER — The nation’s newest state, if rural Colorado residents had their way, would be about the size of Vermont but with the population of a small town spread across miles of farmland. There wouldn’t be civil unions for gay couples, new renewable energy standards, or limits on ammunition magazines.
After all, those were some of the reasons five counties on the state’s Eastern Plains voted on Election Day to approve the creation of a 51st state in the first place.
Secession supporters know the votes were symbolic, designed to grab the attention of a Democratic-controlled Legislature. They say the vote results emphasize a growing frustration in conservative prairie towns with the more populous and liberal urban Front Range, which has helped solidify the Democrats’ power.
“We can’t outvote the metropolitan areas anymore, and the rural areas don’t have a voice anymore,” said Perk Odell, 80, a lifelong resident of Akron in Washington County, which voted to secede.
The five counties share borders, covering about 9,500 square miles and have a combined population of about 29,200. Four of the counties — Philips, Yuma, Kit Carson and Cheyenne — border Kansas. They are solidly Republican areas that have long identified more with Kansas and Nebraska because of their agricultural background than with Denver.
Towns like Akron, population 1,700, were founded in the 1880s along railroads and thrived as agriculture producers, booming in the 1900s during grain shortages. They began a decline in 1920s that continued through the Dust Bowl and their populations have decreased or remained stagnant since then.
What remains are tight-knit communities where grain silos are sometimes the tallest structures around.
Other parts of the state, meanwhile, have grown. More than 80 percent of Colorado’s 5 million residents live on the Front Range. The counties that voted to secede currently only have two state representatives and one state senator.