Gov. John Hickenlooper fielded difficult questions Tuesday from rural members of Colorado Counties Inc. who feel their voices aren't being heard in state government.
The conflict came to a boiling point in November when voters in 11 counties considered leaving the state in a mass secession movement. The measure only passed in five counties and was largely symbolic.
Hickenlooper responded to the unrest by promising to listen to rural Colorado.
"We want more than for you to listen," said Randy Schafer, administrator for Phillips County, on Tuesday after the governor had finished his keynote address. "We do not have a voice in our legislature. We would like to change that."
Schafer is pushing for a constitutional change that would reapportion the Senate so each county has the same number of senators regardless of population - similar to the U.S. Senate, where each state has two senators.
"Would you support that plan?"
Hickenlooper said a plan like that would take a great deal of political compromise.
"You are going to have people who lose and people who win at a dramatic level," he said. "I'm certainly happy to entertain figuring out ways that rural interests, rural Colorado can have a bigger voice at the Capitol."
That voice was vocal last session against new gun laws that ban high-capacity magazines and require background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
But rural Colorado counties were also opposed to Senate Bill 252 - a new law requiring electric cooperatives to purchase more of their energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind energy.
"When it passed you put together an executive order forming a study group saying there were flaws in the bill," said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer. "The study group just recently concluded without any recommendations ... would you support the repeal of Senate Bill 252?"
Hickenlooper said he has encouraged Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association - the most vocal opponent of the new law - to draft suggested changes to the legislation during the 2014 session.
"There are other parts of that bill that I think have benefited the entire state," Hickenlooper said, highlighting changes in the law that avoided a large lawsuit and that enabled biomass power projects to move forward.
Kirkmeyer said the new requirement for renewable energy will cause electric rates to go up in her northeastern Colorado county. She said for farmers that rely on energy for irrigation and larg-scale operations, the rate increases could mean tens of thousands of dollars.
Advocates of the law have pointed out that rate increases because of compliance with the new renewable energy standard are capped at a specific level, and if utility companies are going to exceed that in complying with the law they become exempt from new standards.
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