GOP pins future on upcoming elections

QUICKREAD

CONTESTED

LEGISLATIVE SEATS

Colorado Republicans will be aiming to pick up four seats in the Colorado Senate and six in the House. For the Western Slope, that includes:

• Senate District 5, held by Democrat Gail Schwartz, who’s finishing her first term.

• Senate District 6, held by Democrat Bruce Whitehead, who was recently appointed to replace Sen. Jim Isgar.

• Senate District 16, held by Democrat Dan Gibbs, who’s leaving to run for Summit County commissioner.

• House District 61, held by independent Kathleen Curry, who left the Democrats and plans to run as a write-in candidate.

At the same time, the GOP will have to defend House District 59 because Republican Rep. Ellen Roberts of Durango plans to challenge Whitehead for the Senate.



How well Colorado Republicans do during this year’s elections could decide the future of the Grand Old Party for the next 10 years.

That’s because the new year brings with it another census, and with that a redrawing of lines for legislative and congressional districts. As a result, who has the majority in the Legislature and which party controls the governor’s office becomes crucial for both parties.

Although the Legislature will have final say on how boundaries are redrawn for the state’s seven congressional districts, Colorado law requires that an 11-member commission be appointed to redraw legislative lines depending on how the state’s population has shifted.

The most recent census data indicates the state gained 700,000 new residents over the past decade, topping 5 million. How that will affect district lines depends on where they are living.

As a result, the next governor will get to pick three of those commission members. The remaining are appointed by the Colorado Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey and legislative leaders. Mullarkey, who was appointed to the bench by a Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, gets to name four to the panel; the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate all get to name one each.

That means if Mullarkey appointed Democrats as she did after the 2000 census and a Democratic governor did the same, the party would have an overwhelming 9-2 advantage.

If GOP candidate Scott McInnis or his Evergreen challenger Dan Maes wins the governor’s office, the best the Republicans could manage is a 6-5 split, with Democrats still maintaining control.

On congressional districts, Democratic control of the governor’s office, the state House and Senate means the party can approve whatever map it likes.

If Republicans take only two of the three, Democrats can do what they did in 2001 and force the matter into the courts, which is dominated by appointees of previous Democratic governors.

“It makes it very difficult,” Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said. “But the unaffiliated voters who swung so heavily against Republicans in ‘08 and ‘06 are definitely up for grabs in 2010. That means seats that would not have been in reach in 2008 definitely will be in 2010. It depends on the quality of candidates that step forward and the national and state dynamics.”

Those dynamics changed last week when Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, announced he would not seek re-election.

As a result, the party was waiting to see who would enter the race, though indications are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper would be the likely candidate.

Wadhams said regardless who that is, all of the down-ticket races still will be pegged to the governor’s contest even with Ritter out of the picture. He said Ritter still was the party’s standard-bearer, and Democratic candidates will have to answer for decisions on such things as stricter oil and gas rules and increased vehicle registration fees.

“They can either renounce their candidate for governor ... or they can embrace their candidate,” Wadhams said. “Either one is a fairly bad scenario for them.”

Colorado Democratic Chairwoman Pat Waak said she welcomed the Republicans taking that tack, adding Ritter will be stumping for legislative candidates through Election Day.

“All politics are local,” she said. “The Republicans, if they want to waste their money that way, they can, but it’s really going to be toe to toe, candidate to candidate.”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the GOP needs to pick up four seats in the Senate and six in the House to win a majority in each, and that will include winning a couple of seats on the Western Slope.

“A big part of the voters’ decision will be a referendum upon the governing team, the Democrats,” Penry said.

“Is John Hickenlooper going to stand up and repudiate the car tax? If he does, that will be bad news for (Sen.) Gail Schwartz and all the other Democrats in tough seats that voted for it.”

The Snowmass Village Democrat said she’s not worried.

“I am fairly independent of the governor’s race, so people can have that guilt-by-association and try to do that,” Schwartz said. “I can stand on my own two feet. I have worked and performed and created relationships and delivered and can be evaluated on my own merits.”

Rep. Kathleen Curry’s recent decision to leave the Democratic Party and run as an independent write-in candidate also will make that seat vulnerable because it could split the ticket and allow a Republican to win it, said House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.

“Thanks to Kathleen Curry, we only need five more seats,” he said.


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