Restructuring of state legislature effort resurrected

The Colorado Statesman

A campaign to restructure the state legislature with the aim of giving rural Colorado more of a voice first suspended its efforts after a lackluster response, but then days later announced that it was forging ahead.

The Restoring Colorado campaign grew out of the so-called “51st state movement,” in which rural Coloradans pushed an unsuccessful secession effort last year. Eleven counties in northern Colorado were asked whether they would like to secede from the state. The ballot questions were more of a straw poll in which six of those counties rejected the proposal, halting the 51st state initiative.

The latest attempt comes in the form of a proposed ballot initiative that would reorganize the legislature with a model similar to U.S. Congress. The House would be based on land area and each county in the state would have its own representative, reducing the House from 65 to 64 representatives.

The Senate would remain based on population, with 35 members. Currently, both the House and the Senate are based on population.

Proponents need 86,105 signatures to make the November ballot. But they said on July 5 that they ran into problems with funding and signature gathering.

“Even taking into account our Fourth of July push, we simply do not have enough petitions out in the hands of volunteers to make the goal of 86,105 signatures in the next 26 days,” proponents Joe Kinnie and Randy Schafer wrote to supporters in a July 6 email.

Kinnie is a Phillips County commissioner and Schafer is a Phillips County administrator.

“We had hoped, in late June, that parties might step up to fund paid circulators to get us over the top, but that did not materialize,” the statement continued. “It will take time to build that financial foundation.”

But proponents then on Thursday said that they received pleas from volunteers who convinced them to push ahead in an effort to place the question on the November ballot.

“Due to strong feedback from volunteer circulators state-wide who see burgeoning bipartisan interest in the ballot initiative to realign districts for Colorado’s House of Representatives, Randy Schafer and Joe Kinnie… are reinstating the push for 100,000 signatures by Aug. 1,” the updated news release stated.

Supporters hope that the outcry from the secession effort is loud enough to advance the Restoring Colorado movement. They frame it as a compromise.

Much of the frustration was born out of a push by Democrats last year in the state legislature, which included a package of gun control laws and a rural renewable energy standard loathed by many ratepayers in remote parts of the state.

“Our Founding Fathers created both the People’s House of Representatives and the States’ Senate to make a constitutional republic for fair representation for big and little states alike,” Schafer said. “The Restoring Colorado initiative would do the same for Colorado but for counties instead of states.

“The Restoring Colorado ballot initiative grew out of last year’s secession movement by some counties in response to legislation threatening traditional Colorado rights and freedoms; it focuses, however, on the more pragmatic approach of changing representation,” the statement continued. “Since there are 65 representatives in the Colorado House of Representatives and 64 counties, the House is the logical body to change…”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com