Creating new states is a time-honored American tradition—but we seem to have lost our touch. The last success was in 1959, meaning we’re in the longest state-making dry spell in U.S. history. The newest candidate is northern Colorado, where several counties hope to break away from their home state. But if “North Colorado” is going to succeed, it will have to learn a few lessons from the 37 add-on states that preceded it.
Tip #1: Get a better name.
Right now, they are proposing “North Colorado,” which is a loser. Nobody wants to be a part of “north” anything. “North” means cold, windswept and barren. Just ask North Dakota, which considered changing its name to just “Dakota” in 2001. Better to name your state after a beloved American president. Washington is already taken, but Lincoln or Jefferson are available—and have frequently been attached to statehood proposals in an effort to add gravitas. But make sure it’s a long-dead American. It’s a bit too soon for the state of “Reagan.”
Tip #2: Team up.
Every new state needs a dancing partner to counterbalance any upset of the political equilibrium. In the early 1820s, pro-slavery Missouri had zero chance of entering the Union alone; as did anti-slavery Maine. But together, they waltzed right in. It was the same story with political opposites Alaska and Hawaii. North Colorado has the advantage of a perfect wallflower patiently waiting to fill up her empty dance card. Her name is Puerto Rico. Why haven’t these two hooked up yet?
Tip #3: Don’t be square.
In the 19th Century, Congress sliced up the west like a Little Caesar’s pizza, with straight-line state borders that made little sense. These ill-advised boundaries cause problems to this day, because they group together regions that have nothing in common. North Colorado seems to be falling into the same trap, with a proposed state that’s all right angles. They’d be smart to show show some creativity here. Why not build a state that includes more of the like-minded high plains? Imagine a state stretching from Amarillo in the south to Rapid City in the north, with borders following the great sweeping curves of the American grasslands. In fact, “Grassland” is a name that might have appeal.
Tip #4: Timing is everything.
Here North Coloradans have shown some masterful strategy. They launched their idea in August, when there’s no competing news to get in the way. Washington, D.C., is empty and preseason football is boring—bringing statehood ideas to the front page. Perhaps they took heed of the cautionary tale of the proposed state of Jefferson, which would have straddled the southern part of Oregon and the northernmost part of California. Jefferson had considerable momentum and might have become the 49th state. Unfortunately, their final media push launched in late November of 1941, days before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Tip #5: Rig the vote.
If all else fails, there is always the nuclear option: rigging the vote. That actually worked once in US history, creating West Virginia. State legislatures must approve any split of their state—and the elected Virginia legislature would never have voted in favor of cleaving their homeland. So a separate —Union friendly—legislature was hastily assembled, called the “Restored Government of Virginia.” No surprise, they voted in favor of creating a new state—and Congress signed off. Most experts agree that the creation of West Virginia was not exactly Constitutional, but it worked. Still, if they hadn’t been in such a hurry, they might have picked a better name. Other choices they considered: Kanawha, Augusta and Vandalia. OK, maybe West Virginia isn’t so bad.