Colorado's mercurial political landscape was illustrated dramatically Tuesday, as voters overwhelmingly approved taxes on sales of marijuana, but rejected an income tax hike for education.
Democrats pushing a $1-billion income tax increase to overhaul the state's funding system for schools were dealt a resounding defeat, as two out of three voters rejected the proposal widely championed by the state’s liberal establishment.
On the flip side, a proposal to impose hefty taxes on marijuana was an easy sell to the electorate. About two-thirds of which approved a 25 percent tax on legalized sales of pot that begin next year. The taxes are projected to bring in $70 million a year.
And in a development supporting the notion that Colorado is neither red, nor blue – but purple, voters in nearly a dozen rural counties pondered splitting their state to address a growing urban/rural divide.
Voters in eleven 11 rural counties in Colorado were divided on a vote that would lead to the formation of a 51st state known as North Colorado.
Jeffrey Hare, The 51st State Initiative: "All we're trying to say in the context of the divide in politics is why is that we should continue to bang our heads trying with very different value systems and very different views on the world and politics? Why don't we just, you know, have a divorce?'
At the core of the secession plan is whether voters in rural communities have an equal voice in legislation that governs them. The dissatisfaction has been attributed to a number of recently passed laws in Colorado’s democratically controlled statehouse. The legislation includes restrictions on the right to bear arms and establishes guidelines on how livestock producers treat their animals. Lawmakers also expanded regulation of oil and gas production, and increased renewable energy standards which many expect will have a big impact coal mining and rural energy cooperatives.
Sean Conway, Commissioner, Weld County: "I think today there is universal acceptance that there is a disconnect. It's a problem for the state of Colorado and I think it requires all of us to have better dialogue and figure out ways how we address what created this disconnect.'
With a population of close to 5.2 people, the Centennial State is the 22nd largest in the union and is the 5th fastest-growing. Most of the gains are occurring in urban counties with already large populations, and only about 15 percent of Colorado residents live in rural areas.
John Vazquez, Mayor - Windsor, Colorado: "Are you going to listen? Are you just going to belittle us some more and discount us as, `Well, we really don't matter?' Because if you continue to do that, I assure you change will come.'
The election ended with six of the eleven counties voting against the succession. But five counties where the proposal was approved can continue to pursue the long shot of forming a 51st state.
The Colorado's Legislature and the U.S. Congress ultimately would have to approve the formation of a new state. That’s considered highly unlikely, but the movement's leaders felt they achieved a victory by simply attracting attention to their plight.