Bipartisan coalition calls for redistricting reform
An unlikely coalition of former elected leaders from both sides of the political spectrum have joined forces to fix what they say is wrong with the way the state redraws congressional and legislative district lines.
The coalition includes two former governors, three past speakers of the Colorado House, two former secretaries of state and numerous state representatives and senators.
Along with the League of Women Voters, the coalition submitted a proposed ballot measure Wednesday to change the way the state redraws congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years, after the U.S. Census reports population changes.
Former Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat-turned-unaffiliated, said she’s experienced firsthand how the current system is biased toward the two major parties.
“I submitted an application to the Colorado Supreme Court seeking to sit on the reapportionment commission,” said Curry, whose district included part of Delta County. “I thought I had submitted a pretty good application and letter, and I was informed that they needed to check in with the two parties first before I could be considered. At that point, I knew we were out of whack.”
Several coalition members said voters are tired of the intense political battles that inevitably ensue during redistricting and reapportionment, saying most of which is geared toward keeping incumbent lawmakers in office and political parties in power.
Currently, the 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission determines legislative boundaries for the 35 Senate and 65 House districts. Its members are selected by the governor, chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and leaders in the House and Senate on both sides of the political aisle.
As for congressional redistricting, the Colorado Legislature handles that. But because it always turns into a political hot potato, particularly if control of the Legislature is split between the two parties as it is now, the courts have ended up redrawing those lines.
Under the coalition’s proposal, two commissions would be formed, one for congressional lines and another for legislative districts. The commissions would consist of 12 members each, and include eight people from the two major parties and four who are unaffiliated voters.
While the eight commissioners would be chosen by the chair of the Democratic and Republican parties, the process for selecting the remaining four would be more complicated.
Those members would have to apply to be independent commissioners, and then be subject to a review process and final appointment by retired judges from the Supreme Court or the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Once appointed, only commissioners can suggest specific redistricting maps, and at least eight of them must agree on the final maps.
That way there is at least some non-political input into how they are drawn.
“Equal representation for those who are Republicans, Democrats and neither of those two parties,” said former Secretary of State and Grand Junction Rep. Bernie Buescher, a Democrat. “We’ve made sure that representation for all parts of the state are included on the commission. Every congressional district has to be represented. Western Colorado has to be represented. And southern Colorado. We think by doing that we create a commission that will properly recognize the importance of communities of interest.”
Former House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican, said one other important aspect is written into the proposals: competitive districts.
While redistricting laws call for following certain procedures, such as not splitting minority voting blocs and respecting county and city lines as much as possible, those laws don’t address partisan gerrymandering.
“Competitiveness is not a criteria,” McNulty said. “We think the people of Colorado are better served by including that.”