Colorado’s growing political divide leaves rural communities feeling forgotten and voiceless | SummitDaily.com

Colorado’s growing political divide leaves rural communities feeling forgotten and voiceless

John Frank
The Denver Post

FORT MORGAN, CO - OCTOBER 30: Jim Underwood, 73, a retired truck driver, stands outside his home on October 30, 2017 in Fort Morgan, Colorado. Underwood is a big Trump supporter and hopes Trump is able to build a wall on the Mexico border. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

ILIFF — Under a hard gray sky, Andrew Hernandez guides his combine through the cornfield as he curses the summer hailstorm that let the rows fill with weeds.

In this town, 140 miles from the state's booming capital, the economy feels stagnant, at best. This year, Hernandez is just hoping to break even on the land his family farms.

The uneven roads rattle trucks, and snowplows don't operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. because of state spending cuts. Parents must raise money to replace the gym floor at the local school.

"It's a struggle, always a struggle," Hernandez says.

He and his neighbors worry that rural Colorado is being left behind as the economic disparities and political polarization widen between northeastern Colorado and Denver. Often the two Colorados struggle to even understand each other.

Like the time a transportation official from Denver asked whether he could relocate prairie dogs to the Eastern Plains, not knowing the dangers the animals can pose to grazing cattle. Or the time a Denver politician had no idea that all rural areas didn't have high-speed internet.

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Once, rural officials considered lobbying for money to add shoulders to their roads by calling them bike lanes because it would be more appealing to urban lawmakers.

"People just don't know what all this is about," said Don Ament, a former state lawmaker and agriculture commissioner from Iliff in Logan County.

The leaders in this part of the state held a referendum in 2013 on whether to secede and form a 51st state — a largely symbolic vote of discontent dismissed at the time but now seen as a harbinger of the frustration that made working-class America solid Donald Trump country in the 2016 election.

The well-documented division between the haves and have-nots in the state — whether related to water, internet access or health care — is felt the strongest in the political arena, where urban and rural compete for finite attention and resources.

That dynamic, many political observers say, influences every election and major policy decision in Colorado.

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