Northern Colorado: The 51st State?

NorthernColoradoSome counties in Colorado are unhappy with the state’s leadership and are doing something about it:

If all goes well for the denizens of Weld County, Colo., come November, there will be an item on their ballots asking them to vote on a new brewing issue: seceding with eight other Northern counties from the state of Colorado and forming America’s 51st state, Northern Colorado.

Apparently, they’re not bluffing. On Tuesday, Weld County’s commissioners raised the issue quite seriously at a bi-annual meeting of the state’s county commissioners. Sean Conway, one of Weld’s five commissioners, said the idea had first been raised about two to three months ago by a group of concerned citizens. […]

When the group of voters first approached Conway and his fellow commissioners about seceding, Conway thought they were “a little out there.” But once he looked into it, he said secession began to look like a possibility.

There are between eight and thirteen counties, total, that are looking into this. Eight are listed in the article. If these eight cities formed their own state, it would be the 42nd largest state in terms of area (behind West Virginia, comfortably larger than Maryland). The population, though, would be 51st, with a little less than 3/5ths of the population of Wyoming.

Notably, three quarters of Northern Colorado’s population would be in Weld County, which is in Denver’s MSA.

With regard to the dissident county’s complaints, opinions will vary on their validity. The less interesting thing to me is whether I (or you) agree with Northern Colorado or Colorado proper on issues such as energy exploration and gun control, but the logistics of carving out a state from a state.

Getting the agreement of the seceding counties, the state of Colorado, and congress makes this rather unlikely. Such splits are difficult because it’s rarely the case that both parties are equally fine without one another.

Though not quite the same thing, San Fernando Valley sought to secede from Los Angeles and though their residents voted to make it happen, the city disagreed because, hey, SFV does some heavy lifting with taxes and who wants to let that tax-base go its own way?

What’s interesting about the Colorado case is that you could, theoretically, get both sides to agree to it. Michael Cain has commented that rural counties are a drain on state resources. So if the rural counties wanted to go, it’s not for-certain that the rest of the state would want to stop them. On the other hand, perhaps those states are bringing in NMLA funds that the state wouldn’t want to lose.

The biggest obstacle, other than the fact that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, is the US Senate. You might have a hard time getting congress to give 330,000 voters two senators and a congressman. There is already some resentment in Wyoming’s directions. On the other hand, Republicans might like it because it’s two free senators, and Democrats might be okay with it because it would probably shift Colorado out of competition.

Of course, there would be another potential solution to this. Northern Colorado is adjacent to Wyoming. If Northern Colorado were to become independent, you’d have two adjacent states with the lowest populations. Put them together, they’d be larger than a handful of states. Problem solved!

Except that Wyoming would have to agree. They have a pretty good deal at the moment, with NMLA funds being generously awarded to its sparse population. Spreading that money out among more people might not be a very appealing idea. It’s also the case that they wouldn’t be adding enough new voters to get a second congressperson. So they’d have mild representative dilution.

So, for a lot of the same reason that the most obvious solution to the Washington DC problem, retrocession to Maryland, wouldn’t work, neither would my Greater Wyoming plan work. More’s the pity.

Of course, it’s almost certain that nothing will come of this. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Just like the North/South California split won’t occur, nor the Texas Split.

They would have their own flagship university, however, with the University of Northern Colorado falling in Greeley, which is in Weld County. They wouldn’t, however, have any good postal initials, since NC is taken. They’d have to find a new name. Probably just better to call the whole thing off.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Just do it. Who cares what the Congress or the rest of Colorado thinks. Go independent. Don’t agree to let us be a state? Yah baby, we’re a tax haven right in the US!

    • right up until the first plains wildfire. then they will claim they never really meant it and would like help again.

      • I suppose it depends upon how much money they make laundering the cartel’s cash. It could pay for a lot of fire fighting.

  2. I’ve been paying little attention to this because, hey, we’ve already fought a war about this, right?

    I don’t see Northern Colorado succeeding at this because, I suspect, we’d see Eastern/Western Warshington, Eastern/Western Oregon, we’d see splits in Texas, California, and pretty much any state that is big enough to contain a “Well, there’s (city), and then there’s Alabama” portion.

    That’s a cat they don’t want out of the bag… and the price of Denver making decisions on behalf of Weld County is a price they’re willing to pay.

    • I’ve been paying little attention to this because, hey, we’ve already fought a war about this, right?

      No, we fought a war over whether states could leave the Union. The creation of West Virginia would seem to settle the proper way to interpret the punctuation in Article 4, Section 3: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” A newly-recognized government of Virginia gave the northwestern counties of Virginia permission to form a new state if they wanted to; the counties voted to do so; Congress recognized the new state. Lots of the details were pretty dodgy, but the SCOTUS upheld the process.

      • Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we fought a war over whether states could leave without consent. If one or more states voted to leave, and Congress agreed, I’m not sure what happens. I’ve read arguments both ways.

        • I think there’d be enormous international pressure to let any state that wanted to leave do so. Especially if it’s Hawaii, the most likely candidate, and assuming that it’s not over something like the ability to own people. Not that the US bows to international consistently, but on this I think it would have an effect because we’d recognize that they are right.

    • I think the number of places that would split, even if congress was a rubber stamp on the matter, is comparatively few. Largely because there are so few places where it would be mutually beneficial. Usually one part of a state needs the other part of the state more than the reverse.

      • I don’t know. I think that the rural/urban divide has resulted in hella alienation. A reshuffling of statehood among the rural part (a “new deal”, if you will) would alleviate this alienation.

        Let Denver pass its gun laws. Let Limon keep the old ones.

        • Well, it sucks to be outnumbered, and that’s generally the problem with ruralians in most states. But, the cities are the source of substantial tax revenue. When Clancy and I were looking at the Pullman-Moscow area, it was illuminating. Both similar sized cities, both college towns (Washington State and U of Idaho), both politically purple. Pullman had better tax rates, better roads, and better services, generally speaking. Whether they want to admit it or not, I think Puget Sound tax dollars are a big part of that.

          • Maybe. Or maybe WA just has a gov’t and people more willing to spend than ID?

          • But Washington’s taxes are not actually notably higher than Idaho’s. The sales tax is higher, but there’s no income tax. State and local taxes as a percentage of income are nearly identical, according to my spreadsheet (10.2% for Washington, 9.8% for Idaho – for comparison, 14.5% in New York, 10.8% in Michigan, 9.4% in Texas, 8% in South Dakota).

            I don’t think that’s all that’s going on. Idaho is a mess of a state that shouldn’t exist. But I think the Seattle tax base helps, as well as the fact that services in Seattle are cheaper for the state to provide.

          • Ok. You obviously have a better handle on the facts than I. You might be a damn good state and local gov’t teacher.

          • LOL Idaho is so messed up that its time zone line runs east/west.

            Give the Mountain Time part to Wyoming and the Pacific Time part to Washington.

            As for the originial proposal, one side benefit is that it would leave Wyoming as the only state that is a rectangle.

            Trivia Question: What are the only states that have no borders that are lines of latitude or longitude?

          • LOL Idaho is so messed up that its time zone line runs east/west.

            Idaho is so messed up that having an east-west makes complete sense. As I say, it shouldn’t exist.

            Give the Mountain Time part to Wyoming and the Pacific Time part to Washington.

            Close… northern Idaho to Washington, southwestern to Oregon, southeastern to Utah.

            Trivia Question: What are the only states that have no borders that are lines of latitude or longitude?

            The correct answer to this question is “I should email Trumwill and propose this as a Monday Trivia question.”

        • Splitting across the rural/urban divide would be interesting once the rural areas stopped leaching off the cities.

          Government services are simply far cheaper to deliver on a concentrated or semi-concentrated population. Private services are the same, by and large.

          Rural living would stop being that much cheaper if they were paying their way entirely.

          Not that I particularly mind subsidizing the boonies, although I do think the boonies ought to get an estimated yearly bill as a reminder that they’re not the self-sufficient lords of creation, but taxpayers being subsidized by the very cities they often decry.

          OTOH, I welcome East Texas to split off from Texas proper. 🙂 Also West and North Texas.

          I once drove 12 hours straight and was still in Texas. Houston to El Paso is quite a drive….

          • Government services are simply far cheaper to deliver on a concentrated or semi-concentrated population. Private services are the same, by and large.

            Rural living would stop being that much cheaper if they were paying their way entirely.

            Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are are both still notably less expensive to live in than Illinois, despite disproportionately rural populations and no large city (except Boise). Beyond which, it’s lack-of-tax-base as much as big city generosity, that hobble these places (see my Moscow-Pullman comments elsewhere on this thread).

            I once drove 12 hours straight and was still in Texas. Houston to El Paso is quite a drive….

            Try through Beaumont to Dalhart. Clancy and I went that route, and we thought we’d never get out of Texas.

  3. I know this is a hobby horse of mine, but one place where I really could see a secession movement making a reasonable amount of sense would be upstate New York from downstate New York, dividing it along the northern boundaries of Dutchess and Orange counties. Upstate would be a respectable-sized state, both geographically and population-wise, with a number of mid-sized cities in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and to a lesser extent Utica and Binghamton. The population in upstate would be a respectable 6-7 million, while the population in downstate would be about twice that. Upstate would be electorally competitive in a way that NY as a whole currently is not, while downstate would continue to be a Democratic stronghold. Obviously, upstate would be a respectably large state geographically; but even downstate would be about twice the size of Rhode Island, making it larger geographically than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut.

    I think it would also, in the long run, make sense economically for both sides of the equation. Downstate’s political dominance means that the state as a whole winds up with business regulations that make sense for a permanent economic behemoth like NYC but that absolutely stifle any hope for economic development upstate despite the fact that upstate has a fairly well educated populace and is littered with well-regarded institutions of higher learning, most of which are private institutions that have been around for over 150 years, including Syracuse and Cornell. If upstate could adopt regulations that actually made sense for its own economic growth rather than having to deal with regulations that make sense for downstate, the seeds for an economic recovery (though by no means an economic boom) are there.

    Meanwhile, because upstate is becoming such an economic backwater, it has become a heavy burden on the state’s tax resources.

    And this is all without getting into the standard issues of rural/urban cultural divides, which are probably not a terribly wise basis for splitting up states.

    The big hurdle is that, precisely because the two entities are large enough for this to be a plausible basis for secession, the logistics of actually doing something like this are almost unfathomably difficult. That said, providing a certain amount of semi-autonomity to the separate regions as an interim step would mitigate this problem.

    • And this is all without getting into the standard issues of rural/urban cultural divides, which are probably not a terribly wise basis for splitting up states.

      I’m pretty sure that, if states are allowed to split at all, there’s no way we’re going to get away from rural/urban.

      (Which, ironically, might result in Senators doing a better job of Representing than Representatives have.)

      • Well, most of the sorting would have to be geographical, and there aren’t many cases where you get a clear urban-rural divide that way. Even Washington, a common example, would have Spokane on the east side. I guess there’d be Oregon. Illinois.

        I think Mark is right that it would be a bad idea to expressly separate on this basis. While Montana doesn’t have a bad deal with its lack of urban dominance (no Seattle, no Boise), there’s something to be said for combinations of the two. It helps keep everybody in check, when it works well. It also avoids a greater rich-city-poor-country than we already have.

    • In Trumanverse, Long Island (including Queens and Brooklyn) is its own state. This would have the advantage of diluting NYC’s influence over the state. Obviously, NYC would never allow itself to be split up this way if given a choice (my New Yorker commenters objected to the city being split among three states), but it would alleviate the problem!

      • NYC (and damn near everyone else with half a brain) would gladly cede the non-NYC portion of Long Island, provided they maintained open borders with the Hamptons.

          • Allow me to clarify…

            No one in the greater Metropolitan area considers Queens or Brooklyn to be part of or even on Long Island. There is NYC, including the outer boroughs, and Long Island. You could easily break off Nassau and Suffolk Counties and neither group would object. Ideally, you’d annex Long Island into Connecticut so we could agree once and for all on what to call the Sound.

          • but at least everybody can agree on disliking Staten island.

          • As a kid growing up in NJ, I remember looking at a map of SI in relation to the Jersey coast line and thinking, “Bull shit, that should be in NJ! Just like the Statute of Liberty!”

            Then I went to SI.

            I stopped thinking that.

          • Now if only we can get Staten Islanders to stop believing they’re from the Jersey Shore.

          • I consider the intramural snobbery* of the region interesting. I didn’t even know how distinct SI was until a few years ago (and that was from reading). I think of New Jersey as more like New York than not. I still haven’t figured out what the difference is between LI and SI, other than geography.

            * – This is (for once!) not meant to besmirch the region. The same sort of thing occurs in the South. And don’t get Utahns talking about Idaho.

          • My part of NJ (Bergen County, NEmost) might as well be NY. But you don’t have to go far before you are in Jersey-Jersey. And beyond that you are in Philly, the godforsaken Pine Barrons, or *gasp* South Jersey. No, non-locals might consider us all the same but we sure as hell don’t.

            Anyone non-local would look at where my hometown was on a map and look and how we live and say, “That’s NYC.” But thats not even the same state! We’d never claim that!

            Our world is smaller here. Four hours one way takes me through Philly, Baltimore, and DC; three hours the other hits Hartford and Boston. If I remember correctly, you’re six hours from a decent airport!

          • You realize, of course, Mark, that I have only your word to go by. 😉 Well, and that of Mrs. Thompson, and she seemed trustworthy.

          • I hate to break it to Kazzy, and in his heart he knows it is true, but not only does SI fit in with NJ geographically, but it also fits in with NJ culturally.

            FunFact: Two roads in NJ, state highway 440 and county highway 501, leave NJ via the Outerbridge Crossing and re-enter the state via the Bayonne Bridge. However, both roads have their mileage calculated as if SI was part of NJ.

            FunFact2: The Outerbridge Crossing didn’t get its name because it is the southern-most bridge in NY; it is named after Eugenius Outerbridge, the first chairman of the now-called Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

          • Scarlet,

            It might very well fit in with a certain part or parts of NJ, maybe even most of it… but not my Jersey.

    • “…dividing it along the northern boundaries of Dutchess and Orange counties.”

      Wahoo!!! I’d remain downstate!

    • Upstate NY is only well-educated BECAUSE it has multiple institutions of higher learning. Take out university employees and you have a bunch of dumb-asses. Anyone with half a brain leaves.

      Saying Upstate NY is well-educated is like calculating what percentage of the population of a town has a criminal record and not excluding people actually in prison.

  4. Interesting.

    Maine has had, in the past, some similar agitating on a north/south divide as well. Goes nowhere.

    My money’s on Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

    • I deeply suspect that we will never again have an odd number of states. We will add “you get one, we get one” pairs.

      So maybe this *MIGHT* happen… add Puerto Rico as the 51st and, at the same time, allow Northorado.

      • I hadn’t thought of it until just this minute, but one could imagine a Northern Colorado plus Washington DC deal being struck. One red, one blue. It’d still be a bad deal for the Republicans, though, if it put Colorado out of reach for them. But it would be closer.

      • Ultimately, though, if Puerto Ricans legitimately decide that they want to be a state, I think we’ll have a hard time denying it for too long. It’s just not in our character, barring something like polygamy. The most I can imagine us doing is imposing a requirement for an English proficiency plan.

        • … how about a Spanish proficiency plan?
          (this is a linguistic joke. please do not take seriously).

    • I think Puerto Rico has a pretty good deal with the status quo. I’m not sure federal income taxes are something they’re enthusiastic about paying. Nor, frivolous as it may sound, giving up their international sports teams (which is a reflection on “national” pride). So I’m thinking (hopeful, perhaps) that it doesn’t happen any time soon.

      • Puerto Rico’s residents seem to wantstatehood.

        The push for statehood follows a two-question status plebiscite held in Puerto Rico in November, in which 54 percent of voters said they were against continuing the commonwealth’s territory status. A second question had voters choose among alternatives to the current status, with 61 percent voting for statehood, 33 percent voting for Puerto Rico becoming a nation in a free association with the United States and 5.5 percent voting for outright independence.

        Link goes to a story on a bill in Congress for statehood.

        • That vote was a sham – the process designed to achieve a desired result. I am optimistic that it will be recognized for what it was.

          If Puerto Rico legitimately votes for statehood, then I think we have to consider it. That would require, though, either an up-or-down vote on statehood, or a multi-option ballot with IRV.

          • I’m not sure why it’s considered a sham, Will. There are a lot of people and a lot of organizations pushing for statehood; and they’ve been doing so for a long time.

            As I understand it, there’s efforts in the works to hold another vote, this time under the auspices of the Federal Elections commission.

            But the news here is that there’s a bill in the works; it’s entered into the Thomas database. This puts Puerto Rico much closer to becoming the 51st state then a handfull of disgruntleds in CO, ME, or any other place. (In ME, the move was to cede the US and join Canada, not for a new state; I should be clear about that. It’s gone quiet, for now.)

          • I know that there are many Puerto Ricans that want it. And if that reaches a majority, I think we’ll have to work something out. But the “majority” in the vote taken last November was illusory. A large number of people who voted on the first question didn’t vote on the second. Some of the people who voted yes on the second question may *still* have preferred the status quo over statehood, but merely preferred statehood over the other options.

            The ballot was designed for the result it achieved. That’s not how this should work. A majority should want statehood. Not a majority that you can form if only you present the questions correctly.

            Hold a real vote, either on statehood specifically, a runoff system, or an order-of-preference IRV-style vote. If you can get a majority that way, then we’ll go forward from there.

            (I don’t think they can, which is why they held the vote the way that they did.)

      • A few, more on the eastern side of northern Maine. No roads in the western side. People all the way up to the Canadian border, too. I believe it’s more densely populated then Wyoming.

        • I think the western side is what I’m thinking of. When I looked at a map during a trip to Moosehead a few years back, it looked like the northwestern portion didn’t even have towns, just numbered squares.

          • My brother-in-law won a moose-hunting license in the annual lottery for the most north-western corner of the state. He was very excited. Until he looked at the maps, and yes, there are no roads there. This presents a problem when one intends to haul a dead moose out of the woods.

        • More populated than Wyoming is not a really good comparation…

        • I believe it’s more densely populated then Wyoming.

          I’m immediately reminded of Zefrank:

          “The Tarsier is one nature’s smallest primates. The Pigmy Mouse Lemur is smaller, but you know if you’re being compared to something called the pigmy mouse anything, you’re really, really damn small.”

  5. Creating a new state that small would be a dangerous precedent. We’d have a hundred states before the end of the decade. There are two possibilities: either one of the neighbors (Wyoming, Nebraska, or Kansas) will offer to take them, or some of the neigbhoring counties (from those states or from their Colorado) will offer to join them. I don’t see the latter providing enough people to make a credible state. Those are some of the most sparsely-populated areas of those states. The soil is terrible. So that leaves a neighbor state “poaching” them, probably more to be obnoxious than anything.

    • Like I say to Jaybird, I think the slope here is stickier than one might think. To be able to leave, you’d basically need the approval of the area in question, the state as a whole, and congress. So even if congress was rubber-stamping it, it would be limited to cases where it would be mutually beneficial. That’s not often going to be the case.

      The only caveat here is if a majority of a state’s population wishes to secede. Even a rubber-stamping congress would look at a plan wherein every county of Illinois secedes but St. Clair for the sole purpose of leaving East St. Louis behind, that would be a problem. Or, to take the Washington example, Washington east of Columbia could secede, but Washington west of Columbia would require more scrutiny, because they could vote themselves out and eastern Washington would have no say.

      • I’m not saying I think that “North Colorado” will become part of another state. I am saying that, of all possible scenarios that would result in a change in Colorado’s borders, it’s the most feasible.

        I agree that it’s a tough move to pull off. But then again, if you could get a few counties sufficiently ticked off to petition for exit, the rest of a state may be dismissive enough to say “go ahead and leave”, and it’d be obnoxious bragging rights for a neighboring state to be able to say they’d gained territory.

        • It would be very interesting to see what would happen if a portion of Colorado wanted to leave and form their own state, and the rest of the state wanted them to. I’m not sure whether congress would block it or not. With a population of only 300,000, they might. But if they could expand somewhat more (maybe half a million), I have my doubts that congress would stop them.

          The problem with another state picking them up is that I’m not sure any state would. Wyoming would be the best candidate, but that would dilute their NMLA money. Would getting a foothold in the Denver MSA be worth that? I’m not sure. It would be interesting if one or more of the Great Plains states took them in, considering that Colorado starts where it did precisely because Nebraska and the others didn’t want it included in their own states. The rationale for that is no longer really the case, though, so it’s not impossible.

          I’d mark either as unlikely, though between the two (annexation into another state vs. incorporation as a state) I would actually put incorporation as being less unlikely. For the same reason that I think the slope is sticky when it comes to breakaway states because you have to find cases where all parties agree, I think it’s even further complicated when you have to find another state looking to expand.

          • Rural Nebraskans (i.e., anyone not in Omaha and Lincoln), would probably jump at the chance to dilute the the influence of metropolitan Nebraska.

    • Creating a new state that small would be a dangerous precedent. We’d have a hundred states before the end of the decade.

      Here’s an open question: About how many states do folks here think would be optimal?

      Pretend you’ve been appointed to a commission to redraw state boundaries, and ignore the political difficulties of that ever happening, of getting agreement on new boundaries, and of enacting the plan. What number would you push for as your ideal?

      • Trumanverse has 53 states, though if I were drawing boundaries for real it would likely be fewer. I’d say somewhere between 40 and 50, most likely.

        I’d parse out Wyoming (mostly to Colorado) and Idaho. I’d take a butcher’s knife to the borders of those eastern states. Combine the Dakotas. Split up California and Texas. Maybe New York. Florida might actually be my most populous state! (I am pretty sure in Trumanverse, it’s “Hanover” which is New Jersey and then some.)

        • It’s amazing how much simpler some things would have been in much of the West if state borders had been defined by watershed boundaries, rather than following rivers or being arbitrary straight lines. From a purely water perspective, the State of Colorado makes absolutely no sense. All of Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California are downstream from us along one river or another; in the case of the San Juan, New Mexico is both downstream and upstream relative to us. Lord only knows exactly how many river compacts Colorado is signatory to — and from time to time, including as recently as 2009, we go to court to figure out just what those compacts require.

          • I have read a book, and unfortunately I’m not at a location where I can look it up, called something like “The Thirteen States of America” which advocated almost exactly that, Michael Cain. Thirteen states with borders mostly defined by watershed boundaries would be the new US. I believe the new Michigan was the entire American Great Lakes watershed. You can imagine Louisiana!

      • Silly, James, you know the answer.

        350 some odd million.

        Every man ought be his own state.

        Women, too, I guess.

        • Isn’t that kind of the theoretical threshold where libertarianism becomes a kind of tyranny against the right of the people to form organized society?

          • Well, my comment was in jest, but I presume a true libertarian would allow for voluntarily organize a society.

        • I just noticed, 350 million, not 310 million. That’s even more intriguing. Do larger computer systems become their own states? Border collies? Canadians?

          • Between 310 and 315.

            Personally, I was looking forward to applying so that my right brain and left brain could each be governors of a state.

          • I’m grabbing an extra state, for the leg room.

          • Brandon, worry not. Even though in Trumanverse your state is relatively small and cramped, if I were drawing a map, it would be picking up northern Idaho. So, more legroom.

      • That’s a pretty dangerous question. We’re extraordinarily bottom-up in such matters in the US, and that’s gotta be for the best. We are states that are united. And there are meanings to the weird boudaries that lie in history and people’s decisions that an outsider or an overseer would never be able to know, let alone fairly rank in priority.

        If I were forced onto such a commission, my hunch is that a small number of larger states would be able to exercise greater independence and keep the federal system, well, federal. My sense of symmetry makes me think that 13 would be a good number.

        • I’d have a few problems with 13. First, they’d be so large that I think that confederation would be a real problem. Too much power would likely devolve to the states. (I say this as someone who believes in a greater amount of state autonomy than most.)

          Second, they’d be unwieldy. It might be an improvement over everything being run by Washington (which, of course, isn’t what we have now, though some would prefer it), but it would still be a lot of people being governed from far, far away.

          Ideally, I would aim for no state to be so large that you cannot traverse it in a single day. Call it “The Montana Test.” I consider Montana to be about as large, geographically, as you would want a state to be. You can drive from Dillon, in the southwest part, to Wolf Point, in northwest, within a single day. Alaska would get an exemption from this.

          Put the capital in the middle of the state, where it should generally be, and it’s a half-day drive from the capital to anywhere in the state.

          I’d also avoid states smaller than a particular geographical size, to avoid city-states.

          Which is not to say that I would use geography as the only marker. Population matters, too. I’d seek for there to be more balance than there currently is. Some states, though, like Montana and Alaska, probably cannot be helped. We’d still have some small states and some disparities. But no Wyomings or Vermonts.

          • I would aim for no state to be so large that you cannot traverse it in a single day

            Texas rancher to Indiana farmer: “My ranch is so big it takes a whole day to cross it in my pickup.”

            Indiana farmer to Texas Rancher: “Yeah, I’ve got a truck like that, too.”

          • If by “day’s drive” you mean 24 hours, that’s too far. That would leave many people 2 days of reasonable travel from the capital.

          • In terms of area, you could make about 22 Montanas out of the contiguous US. Some of those Montanas are going to have a lot of people. If you’re actually talking about travel time, there are parts of Philadelphia you’d be hard-pressed to drive across in a day.

            But if we’re doing this subjectively, then my conservative instinct is telling me that there’s probably more meaning in the organic way that states have developed than anything I’m going to come up with on my own. If the Senate distribution bugs you so much, just move to Wyoming where your vote really counts. 🙂

          • I consider a day’s drive to be no more than 12 hours of drive-time. That was about what I could accomplish during my cross-country moves without going insane. I’d aim for less than that, though.

            Pinky, I wouldn’t have all the states be equally sized, from a geographic standpoint. Which is why I am thinking 40-50 states rather than 20 or so. More densely populated states should be smaller (but not city-states).

            Senate distribution doesn’t bother me all that much. I won’t say whether it’s Wyoming, but I live in a lowpop state and I am a regular defender of the US Senate on this site. That said, knowing what settlement patters would look like, I would not have a state with as low a population as Wyoming has. If it were up to me.

          • I’m cool with that definition of a “day’s drive.” Here in the NE/Mid-Atlantic, anything over three typically demands an overnight stay.

          • Driving the urban is much, much more stressful than driving the rural. Not just mile-for-mile, but hour-for-hour.

          • It would invite too much economic disparity, would increase the polarization of our society, and size of state matters with regard to land in addition to population. Allowing city-states here would mean that either we have too-large states over there, or alternatively that we have more states than I would be comfortable with.

          • Will – What’s your stand on DC statehood? Would that be a city-state?

          • I support retrocession into Maryland.

            Yeah, I’d consider it a city-state. I wouldn’t go apoplectic if they got statehood, but I don’t favor it.

          • Keep the White House and monuments and stuff as federal land, and mush the rest back up to Maryland. That sounds right.

          • Zane, not if you raise the speed limit!

            According to Googlemaps, it’s 12 hours and 5 minutes. Googlemaps tends to overestimate driving times off interstates, so I would guess that it’s actually under 12 hours. That said, I’m sure you can find some Point A’s and Point B’s in Montana that would be over 12 hours (I was looking at places with poulations over a couple thousand). So it’s not perfect. But Montana is relatively close to the ideal maximum size.

        • If I were forced onto such a commission,

          I respect the fact that you wouldn’t volunteer.

      • Do I have to keep the Senate? If so, fifty is about right to create a an effective deliberative body. (Not that the existing Senate routinely meets that definition.) But as repositories of the police power in regions with some sort of geographic and cultural identity I’d venture we need between a hundred and a hundred twenty-five.

        • An effective deliberative body should consist of more than people from the right wing party and people from the righter wing party.

          Seriously. Three people that bring different ideas to the table, and are willing to argue over them and reach compromisses and know that they will not achieve everything that they want are a better deliberative body than fifty people that think exactly the same.

          • The issue of who gets elected is different from the issue of the number of offices to which one might be elected.

    • Creating a new state that small would be a dangerous precedent.

      Certainly one of the questions that people seriously proposing a state that small should have to answer is “What will the state budget look like?” I mean a realistic budget proposal — what programs, what expenses, what tax base and rates? Being a state is an increasingly expensive proposition. Many of the things that have to be put in place have cost curves that look like a+bx, where the getting-started cost a — both initially and annually — are substantial (dig up the minimum price for a compliant unemployment insurance system, or Medicaid MMIS software. My belief based on experience with the Colorado state budget is that the proponents of the new NoCo, doing an honest budget exercise, would have to tell its potential citizens “Tax rates will be higher, services will be reduced.”

      Seriously, the Weld County commissioners — apparently the “brains” behind the proposal — should know better.

      • Not necessarily, at least according to my spreadsheet*. Per-capita spending in low-population states is often quite low. Accounting for both state/local** and federal. Wyoming (#2) spends a lot, but they have a lot to spend (Ditto Alaska, #1). Montana (#34) and Idaho (#47), and South Dakota (#48) less so. Smallpop are well-represented at or near the top, but they run a spectrum.

        That said, just because they spend less per-capita doesn’t mean that they don’t have to tax more. Idaho takes roughly the same from its citizenry as does Washington, but that equals different amounts of spending. See Pullman/Moscow.

        And from what you say of Colorado, it sounds like it might be tough sledding for the counties in question if support from Denver is cut off. Reduced services, at least.

        * – The data isn’t fresh, though it’s not that old. I think it’s 2008 or 2009.

        ** – Okay, well I don’t actually have state/local on the spreadsheet, so I plugged in tax receipts. If anything, this overstates the spending of Montana, South Dakota, and Idaho, as they have relatively low levels of debt, per-capita.

        • Actually, the calculation on my spreadsheet may not be correct. The column I had assumed for federal-only may have included federal and state, which since I added state and local to that, would have included state spending twice. I’m trying to track down the source of those numbers.

          Meanwhile here are some other numbers. Montana is on the higher end here, though South Dakota and Idaho are still not. New Hampshire is higher on my spreadsheet and very low on this one, and it’s the other way with Arkansas (middling on my list, higher on this one). These numbers are looking at state spending, including money given by the feds for the states to spend.

  6. Tod – Redrawing state lines: there’s gotta be a bar fight in there somewhere.

    • At some point in the past, perhaps in e-mail rather than more publicly, I suggested an LoOG symposium inviting posts that picked a group of states to secede, and argued why they might get away with it. Fundamentally, the problem is one of arguing why a particular group would think it would be both viable and better off as an independent, and why the other states would think they would be better off minus those that seceded.

      • Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Don’t wait for them to secede, send them on their way now.

          • Nuh uh! But tell ya want, if you ask nicely we’ll take Wisconsin with us into confederation. Canada could use a good NFL team.

          • Okay okay I’ll meet you half way. Give us MN and Wi and we’ll take IL with us, or if you want just Detroit.

          • Minnesota and Wisconsin are some pretty valuable real estate. They have a combined GDP of USD 518.5, the equivalent of CAD 526.8. The nearest economic and most logical geographic exchange would be British Columbia and Alberta, whose GDP’s combine for CAD 513.0.

            You’d get the Twins, the Brewers, the Packers, the Vikings, the Bucks, the Northstars, and the Timberwolves. In exchange, we’d get the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers and I think three of some of those teams that play that strange quasi-football-like game you have up there. Hmm. When you look at it that way, It’s not a good trade for us at all. Fugheddaboutit.

  7. Notably, three quarters of Northern Colorado’s population would be in Weld County, which is in Denver’s MSA.

    And probably half of the population lives in a 25-mile-wide strip running along the western edge of Weld County. In addition to Greeley — the obvious capital of the new state — that strip includes pieces of other Front Range cities and towns that cross the county line such as Brighton, Longmont, Northglenn, Thornton, and Windsor. If you look at a large-enough outline map of the county relative to the rest of the state like this one, you’ll see a little nick taken out of the southwest corner. That’s where a piece was taken for Colorado’s newest county, the City and County of Broomfield. I’m sure that, as Colorado would have to give permission for a separation, one of the conditions would be that each of those cities and towns be given an opportunity to decide which state they want to be in, and that the result would be a whole set of little nicks taking out a significant chunk of the population. OTOH, there are reports that other eastern plains counties have made inquiring calls.

    One of the interesting questions — well, for certain Western legal types — would be what happens to some of the river compacts between Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. NoCo would include the points at which mandatory water flows into those other states are measured, so “clearly” the new state would have to assume responsible for making the deliveries. But there is no cross-state agreement on how much water Colorado would have to deliver to NoCo. I could envision Colorado taking the position that, for the South Platte in particular, Colorado would deliver the water that belongs to Nebraska, but nothing for NoCo. Sort of “You’re free to go, but you don’t get to take any water with you.”

    • “You’re free to go, but you don’t get to take any water with you.”

      I suspect that if those counties are told that they’re free to go, other counties would start jumping on. The Western Slope has more in common with Northorado than with Denver and I can see Colorado Springs leaping at the opportunity to put their thumb in Denver’s eye.

      The eventual map would look vaguely like the Colorado State Flag… which would change the water dynamic.

    • I have difficulty imagining that it would go town-by-town. Most likely, you’d be stuck with what your county decides. Unless you can take a part of the county and petition to say that this county ought to be two counties.

      Contiguousness would matter. I suspect that if, say, Phillips County were to decide not to join, it would become a condition on NoCo that they convince PhilCo to join them.

      • I have difficulty imagining that it would go town-by-town.

        The relationship between the state, counties, and home-rule cities in Colorado is… complicated. In many ways, the home-rule cities sit higher in the pecking order than the counties do. Eg, a home-rule city can annex chunks of the county (including across county lines, unless they’re one of our two city-and-counties), but not the other way. A home-rule city can choose its own form of governance; county government structure is dictated by the state. IANAL, but my best guess is that under this state constitution, home-rule cities that crossed the border between what would remain Colorado and what would be NoCo would get a choice, and county lines would be realigned before the separation.

        • Thanks for the clarification. Towns that cross the county line would indeed be an interesting case. I’m not sure if the typical city/county/state structure would be the guiding rule on this. I’m not sure what the rules would be. But the traditional powers reserved for the cities may not be in place, in this particular case. Or maybe they would?

  8. The biggest obstacle, other than the fact that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, is the US Senate. You might have a hard time getting congress to give 330,000 voters two senators and a congressman. There is already some resentment in Wyoming’s directions. On the other hand, Republicans might like it because it’s two free senators, and Democrats might be okay with it because it would probably shift Colorado out of competition.


    I deeply suspect that we will never again have an odd number of states. We will add “you get one, we get one” pairs.

    Yes and yes.

    I vote we split New York into two, California into three, Colorado into two, and add Puerto Rico.

    It’s like a 5-team trade int he NBA.

  9. I propose giving the whole thing back to the Sioux and Lakota. They do have a treaty, signed in 1868, to that effect. Run off all these secessionists forthwith.

    • Ha! Ironically that’s awfully close to the strategy that federalists used in Canada the last time the Quebec seperatists got into a lather.

  10. I don’t know how it fits into any of this, but Senator Heller proposed an amendment to the immigration bill (with Reid cosponsoring) that would designate Nevada as a border state.

  11. Wow, you guys wasted a lot of time and energy on this. Took me about 2 seconds to say, “Wow, this is REALLY stupid.”

  12. Once upon a time, the NJ Senate had 21 members: 1 for every county. Needless to say, this caused the legislature to play games with the county lines and to create counties when they would not have done so otherwise.

    Since this was declared illegal, the county lines have remained untouched. Some towns want to switch counties, but that is more for taxation reasons than political ones.

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