Ballot initiative would give each of Colorado’s 64 counties a voice
May 28, 2014
Randy Schafer wants rural Colorado to have a voice and representation when it comes to the state's legislation.
Schafer, the Phillips County administrator, and Phillips County Commissioner Joe Kinnie want a state representative in the Legislature from each of the 64 counties in Colorado.
Schafer, a Haxtun resident from the northeast corner of Colorado, and Kinnie are acting as private citizens behind Restoring Colorado, a citizen's initiative committee that announced Wednesday a petition drive for a ballot initiative to change the way Coloradans elect state representatives in 2017 to mirror the U.S. Senate.
"The U.S. Senate gives two votes to two senators in every state regardless of size, regardless of land mass and regardless of population," said Schafer in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. "Bringing that back to Colorado, we talked about changing one of the Houses so it was based on an area rather than population. We have a representative, but it covers probably 12 counties.
Schafer said the proposal isn't viewed as a partisan issue, but it's all about representation.
"If you look at the map that shows the House of Representatives, probably about 12 of them serve outside the Front Range or what we're calling 'other Colorado.' All the other representatives exist from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and they're all in the populated areas," Schafer said. "With this change, the Senate would still be based on population, but the House would change to give everybody a seat at the table. We'd all have a voice with what happens in this state."
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Both the Colorado House and Senate are based on population, but the proposal would change House district boundaries to coincide with county boundaries, giving each county one representative. The state Legislature currently has 65 House seats. If this proposal becomes a reality, the House seats would be reduced to 64. That would mean that Weld County, which currently holds four House seats in Greeley (Dave Young-D), Windsor (Perry Buck-R), Firestone (Lori Saine-R) and Severance (Steve Humphrey-R), would hold one House seat.
Schafer said the effort behind the proposed legislation started with the 51st state initiative in 2013 that was a reaction against legislation decided without statewide input. A resolution by state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to try and get the state Legislature to put the Phillips County proposal on the ballot failed in the latest session.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who was the face of the 51st state initiative, is in favor of putting the Phillips County proposal to the vote of the people.
"I do believe that the rural/urban divide is not subsiding, it's growing," Conway said on Wednesday. "As Colorado becomes more urbanized, particularly urbanized in a small portion of the state geographically along the I-25 corridor primarily between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and when you have a state as large and diverse as Colorado, it makes sense to have as much of that diversity represented in the Colorado General Assembly."
Conway said many of the state's rural residents are feeling politically disenfranchised.
"They are no longer a part of the political process, and that's what fermented the 51st state idea," Conway said. "This is an idea that I think has merit, and it would not be hard to implement. We currently have 65 legislators in the Colorado House. Giving each county a seat at the table and including and bringing that representation from all across the state of Colorado, I think, as the governor said, it will make us stronger. I think it will make Colorado a better place and potentially could be a model for the rest of the country and many other states that are experiencing the same thing in larger states like California and smaller states like Delaware and Rhode Island."
Schafer said the grassroots petition drive is seeking signatures of 100,000 registered Colorado voters. He said citizens may volunteer to circulate petitions and educate voters on the issue or donate by going to the committee's website at http://www.restoringcolorado.org. Schafer said they only have a little more than two months to deliver the signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office by Aug. 4 to be put on the November ballot.