COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Votes in 11 rural counties on whether to secede from Colorado sparked debates that ultimately will strengthen the state, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told local government officials Tuesday.
Speaking to Colorado Counties Inc., which represents the interests of local governments, Hickenlooper repeated his pledge to listen more to rural communities. He also praised the work of county commissioners in the aftermath of September's monumental floods.
The governor has been criticized by some rural counties over legislation he signed that implemented new gun restrictions and higher renewable energy standards for electricity cooperatives.
The frustration prompted 11 counties to hold a largely symbolic vote in November on whether to secede from Colorado. Six counties voted against the idea.
For any rural counties to become a new state, Colorado lawmakers would have to sign off, followed by Congress — a scenario that even supporters of the plan said was highly unlikely.
Hickenlooper said the secession question "really led to debates and discussions that are going to make each of your counties stronger and, I think, ultimately make the state stronger."
Hickenlooper, who is running for a second term, has seen his popularity wane after he and fellow Democrats controlling the Colorado Legislature advanced proposals that were unappealing to Republicans.
The renewable energy standards and gun restrictions, which included universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines, passed without a single Republican vote. Rural energy suppliers complained they would have to raise rates to meet the goal.
Hickenlooper did not mention the gun laws on Tuesday, but he acknowledged criticism that the public did not get enough time to testify on the bills. Outrage over the legislation led to the ouster of two Democratic state senators in recall elections, including former Senate President John Morse.
Hickenlooper said he has spoken with incoming Senate President Morgan Carroll about "how we have to do a better job of making sure everybody gets their voice heard." He said Carroll agreed, and his comment elicited applause from the crowd.
Still, county officials hoping for a repeal of the energy standard have an uphill battle.
The energy law required Colorado's rural cooperative electric associations to get 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from 10 percent. That's a lower threshold than what is required of electricity providers serving most Coloradans. Republicans argue rural residents can't afford the upgrade.
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer asked the governor whether he'd be willing to scrap the law. Hickenlooper said opponents of the law are welcome to introduce a bill to make modifications.
Kirkmeyer said she was not satisfied with his answer but was optimistic that "he will at least listen better this year, this time around."
Colorado Counties Inc. is hosting its winter conference in Colorado Springs.