Colorado high court hears commission’s defense of proposed legislative boundaries
DENVER — Colorado Reapportionment Commission attorneys tried Wednesday to defend the 11-member panel’s decision to split so many counties in new House and Senate district maps it submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court last month.
Beyond ensuring that the 35 Senate and 65 House districts are nearly equal in population and that federal laws that bar voter discrimination are followed, the next top criterium the commission is required to follow is keeping districts within county lines as much as possible.
During oral arguments, the Supreme Court justices questioned the commission’s lead attorney, David R. Fine, asking if he thought the commission followed the law.
He said nearly all of the members of the commission wanted to create competitive districts and did so within the limits of the Constitution.
“The adopted plan does include many House and Senate districts in which either major political party has a fair shot at winning,” Fine said. “We think that such a plan is representative of Colorado’s centrist political tradition and will help ensure that Colorado remains one of the few states blessedly free of the poisonous politics that seem to affect most of the rest of the country.”
But that talk of competitive districts drew immediate response from the justices, who questioned whether competitiveness, which is not a legal requirement of reapportionment, was done at the expense of other required criteria, such as keeping cities and counties whole.
Opponents of the map, or at least parts of them, argued some counties were split just for the sake of competitiveness.
Arguing on behalf of several southwest Colorado counties and Western Slope advocacy group Club 20, Durango attorney William Zimsky said the commission arbitrarily cut San Miguel County in half just to create a competitive House District 59, which would stretch from Ouray County south into La Plata and Archuleta counties.
“It’s not necessary to split San Miguel County,” he said. “They have failed their constitutional charge, and they did so because they wanted more competitive districts. They used that extra constitutional provision for consideration in violation of the most important consideration.”
Further north, assistant Garfield County Attorney Cassandra Coleman said the House map inexplicably splits in half the Apple Tree Mobile Home Park near New Castle, taking 90 voters out of House District 61 and putting them into House District 57.
It is unknown when the high court will rule on the maps. It could accept them as is or remand them back to the commission for specific changes. A final map is to be submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office by Dec. 14.