Politics

 

Colorado's Strange Secession Vote

Colorado's Strange Secession Vote

You can have your Chris Christies and Bill de Blasios and Terry McAuliffes. Oh, those are all interesting races, and they all tell us something or other about the current mood. But Tuesday night, I’m going to be watching Colorado. Individual pols come and go, but what seems to be happening out in the Rocky Mountain West is the start of a new and lamentable trend that I think may be with us for a long time in American politics.

Eleven of Colorado’s 64 counties want to secede from the state, and there is a referendum on the ballot to that effect. It will, in all likelihood, pass. Only the voters in those 11 counties are voting on the question. Ten are contiguous, in the northeast corner of the state. In their dream world, they say sayonara to Denver and become “North Colorado.” The eleventh county is across the way, in the northwest corner. Since the U.S. Constitution mandates that states be contiguous, Moffat County would just sign up with Wyoming.

These things have popped up before. I covered one 20 years ago, when Staten Islanders voted two-to-one to break off from New York City. The voters always approve these things. Of course, Staten Island is still a borough of New York City, which tells us that although they always pass, they always amount to nothing. This one will amount to nothing too, in the short term. Congress has to approve a new state, and that isn’t going to happen.

But it’s fascinating that we are witnessing the culture-ization of politics, the trumping of shared culture over shared political traditions and agreements that go back generations. We’ve seen it around the world. Czeckoslovakia splitting in two. Yugoslavia splitting in five. The movement to split Iraq into three, which didn’t take hold but had the backing of some serious people. Back in the day, peoples of different cultures banded together to form states because there was more power in being larger, in the post-Congress of Vienna era of the nation-state. But eventually they circled back to the core unavoidable truth of not being able to stomach one another.

Well, now we’re getting to the same point domestically. In the last 20 years, we’ve herded ourselves into clusters like snarling breeds of dogs. See Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort. That book came out in 2004. Its subtitle: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Pretty prescient, no?

In a place like Colorado, the clustering has been reinforced by the immigration of lots of college-educated hipsters to the state. It has grown from a population around 3 million in 1990 to around 5 million, and the newer arrivals have moved to or near the cities and have plainly made Colorado a more Democratic and liberal state. (Here is everything you’ll ever need to know about Colorado demography.) The values of Denver and Boulder and Arapahoe County—a not quite big-L Liberal area but an upscale, arugula-friendly, and certainly not right-wing zone—dominate in the state capital.

There have been huge fracking controversies. Voters legalized marijuana last year (and this year are voting on the imposition of an excise tax on it to fund school construction). There was that combustive row over guns, in which two (and maybe three, pending results) anti-gun legislators were recalled. Culturally, there’s little doubt about it. Colorado is two states.

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