Colorado redistricting panel spirals into partisanship

Posted on: April 18th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Opening shots were fired Friday in what started as an attempt at bipartisan civility in charting the future of Colorado Congressional representation but ended in bipartisan name calling that did anything but create a basis for impartial redistricting discussions.

Members of the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting presented their redistricting maps to the public Friday, causing Republican committee members and Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, to fly into a tirade over Democratic proposals. Congressional districts presented by Democrats, while keeping an even split of politically safe and winnable districts for Democrats and Republicans, had drawn those districts such that each was closer to metropolitan areas. It was a move Republicans said would hurt the chances of rural members of the districts to be elected.

“I am looking at a map that more than likely would have seven congressmen living within a mile of DIA.” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said, “The San Luis Valley, the Western Slope, the Eastern Plains–the chances of us electing a Representative under any of your plans would be very minimal. And I am very disappointed.”

McNulty followed up Coram’s statement with an impromptu press conference outside the committee room.

“If Sen. [Rollie] Heath continues to get rolled by Sen. President Brandon Shaffer and Sen. Morgan Carroll than I think we have a real problem with… this process.” McNulty said. “But I am extremely offended that the Senate Democrats would use this public process as a smokescreen to draw districts for two of their members.”

However, McNulty apologized to House Minority Leader, Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, for asserting early in the process that he was trying to carve out a favorable congressional district. McNulty said Pace was thrown under the bus with the Democratic lines.

“I was probably wrong to question the minority leader’s political ambitions when we have a map that is clearly drawn to the benefit of Morgan Carroll and Brandon Shaffer,” McNulty said.

Democrats, however, said casting such aspersions had little to do with the factual realities of their redistricting maps.

Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the Colorado Independent that she had no intentions of running for congress.

“Strange assumption on his part,” Carroll said.

Co-chair of the committee, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said McNulty’s assertion that CD 4 was carved out by Democrats for Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, to mount a congressional run was simply false. He said the district has roughly a 26 percent to 36 percent Democrat/Republican split–odds he said he would take if he were a Republican.

“I would very much like to be a Republican and run in that district,” Heath said.

He said they were trying to create competitive districts as they worked with the redistricting maps.

Democratic maps, by the numbers, all gave Republicans greater voter margins in four congressional districts, however, one district of each party is competitive within a percentage point.  Republicans would hold CD 2 by roughly 1,000 voters on most maps, with each side controlling 33 percent of the voters. Democrats could lay claim to CD 7 with about 1,700 more registered Democrats.

Republicans also provide Democrats with three congressional districts, however, there is less competition to be had in their numbers. The plan essentially gives Democrats a large lead in Districts 1, 2, and 7 while giving a considerable margin of Republican registered voters in 3, 4, 5, and 6. In the case of a few of the Republican maps, Democrats would be within 3 percent of voter counts in District 6.

Democrats and Republicans are charged with redistricting the state under new census numbers every decade. Their job is to create roughly equal voter distribution among districts while doing their best to keep communities of interest together. All the while they are asked to avoid, if possible, changing the current lines.

When the population count was determined, Districts 7, 1, and 3 were in need of people, while Districts 2, 4, 5, and 6 needed less people to even out the number of voters in each district. The redistricting committee was formed to come up with a solution to that problem without going to court as it has in previous years.

Republican maps did little to change the overall geographic makeup of the current congressional districts, though would bolster the safety of some Republican seats.

This was not the case with Democratic maps. Heath said that their maps were constructed by focusing on a number of communities of interest and public suggestion.

He said that they worked to keep cities, suburbs, counties, and the I-70 corridor whole. In addition, they were asked to separate Longmont from Boulder, keep Pueblo as separate from Colorado Springs, ensure Chaffee County was part of the mountains, and focus on ensuring transportation corridors were represented in the redistricting map.

Current congressional districts have the state split roughly between the west and the east with the more urban center of the state split into 5 districts. Republican maps largely left that structure.

Republicans argued that this structure was broken by Democrats, and said that the refusal to keep the east/west voting blocs and the decision to break up many counties was an attack on many communities of interest.

Democrats took steps that refashioned the western and southern portions of the state’s voting blocs, by essentially creating three geographically-large congressional districts; one in the northwest, one in the northeast, and one that encompasses the southern half of the state.

District 2, which is currently made up of Grand County, Eagle County, Clear Creek County, Boulder County, Jefferson County, and Broomfield County, would vastly expand under the Democratic lines and would be sculpted out of most of the northwest portion of the state, an area controlled now by District 3. In turn, District 3 would assume much of the lower half of the state cutting the Eastern Plains in half.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who sits on the committee, told the Colorado Independent that while the changes made by Democrats might first appear outside the box, historically there have been similar shifts in the past.

Democrats provided a history of past redistricting maps presumably to underscore this point. It shows drastic changes between a north/west divide during the 70s and an east/west divide that has largely existed since the 1980s.

Pabon said that many of their changes came directly from community input. He said that the Western Slope and southern Colorado have been clamoring for a stronger voting bloc.

However, while rural representation was important to Democrats, Pabon said the majority of the population lives around urban centers.

“We want rural representation” Pabon said. “The fact of the matter is that 3 million people live in the metro area. There are only 5 million people in Colorado.”

McNulty, however, was not buying the argument. He said that he would be furious if he were a rural Coloradan.

“The Democratic maps split Douglas County and El Paso County. These maps combine Boulder with Grand Junction, Montezuma with Fountain, and are clearly drawn for the personal politics of a select few,” McNulty said.

“If I represented rural Colorado I would be absolutely outraged. This map lays asunder rural Colorado. If I was on the West Slope I would be outraged. If I was on the Easter Plains I would be irate that Brandon Shaffer split the Eastern Plains just for himself.”

Pabon said the arguments of the Speaker felt much like the budgeting process.

“In the end, we are [like] the joint budget committee. We are trying to work out a deal and we have leadership, at least on one side, that is trying to play games with the process,” Pabon said.

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