Blurred lines: Parties split on redrawing congressional boundaries

When it first started out, the bipartisan legislative panel to redraw congressional districts was known around the Colorado Capitol as the “Kumbaya Committee” because lawmakers on it seemed to be getting along.

But after Democrats and Republicans on the 10-member panel proposed maps last week that are diametrically opposed to each other, the committee isn’t called that anymore.

At a meeting of that panel Tuesday, Democrats said they want to create as many competitive districts as possible, while Republicans said they would prefer to maintain the same communities of interest that have existed for the past two decades.

The law requires only that districts be as close in population size as possible and abide by the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters from being disenfranchised. Other criteria, such as keeping communities of interest together or creating competitive districts, can be considered but are not required.

Mesa County switch

The five proposed Republican maps give a clear majority in four of the state’s seven congressional districts to GOP voters. Democrats, however, say Republicans do that by packing minority voters into Democratic districts and “cracking” them into Republican ones.

The six proposed Democratic maps, meanwhile, also give four districts a GOP majority, including the 2nd Congressional District seat that currently is held by a Democrat. That district, which would be redrawn to include Mesa County and the northern part of the Western Slope, also is the only one that would have more independent voters than Democrats or Republicans.

Democrats consider a district competitive if the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is 9 percent or less. As a result, five of the seven districts are competitive on their maps.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said unlike the Republican maps, the Democratic ones don’t split Colorado cities and keep transportation corridors in the same district as much as possible. He said what upset him the most, however, was the Republicans’ attempt to dilute Hispanic voters.

“There is blatant cracking of Hispanic voters in the Republican maps,” Pabon said. “This is just a slap in the face to so many Hispanics.”

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said the Democratic maps also try to keep watersheds in the same districts, saying the Republican maps split those waterways.

Republicans, however, said Democrats could get competitive districts without changing existing lines so dramatically.

“I didn’t hear one person from Moffat County saying they wanted to be put into a district with Boulder,” Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, told Democrats. “I’m not finding a lot of examples of people who wanted to go into the direction that you want to go.”

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said Democrats from southwest Colorado have said they have more in common with Rifle Republicans than they do with Denver Democrats.

Splitting regions

Despite its differences, the committee plans to meet again today in hopes of coming up with a compromise map, which it would introduce into the Legislature to consider before the 2011 session ends May 11.

The committee didn’t agree on much Tuesday, but it did agree to find the commonalities between the two sides and attempt to build a coalition based on that.

Their sticking points are on whether to split El Paso and Larimer counties and the Western Slope and Eastern Plains,  as the Democratic maps call for, or keeping those areas whole, as Republicans want.

If the committee can’t agree on a single map, it may refer two maps to the Legislature. But if the Legislature can’t agree before the session ends, it could convene a special session later this year or wait until the next session to do it.

Whatever map is ultimately approved won’t be used until the 2012 elections.


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