Colorado redistricting opportunity squandered
Members of the Colorado Legislature have until midnight tonight to reach a compromise on a congressional redistricting bill.
Here’s some advice for all Coloradans: Don’t hold your breath expecting that to occur.
Senate Democrats couldn’t even pass their own bill Monday night. It died about midnight. House Republicans passed their version of a redistricting bill Monday, knowing full well that it stood no chance of passing in the Senate.
Lawmakers had a real opportunity, with the creation of a bipartisan committee on redistricting early this year — which gathered input from citizens around the state — to forge a compromise that put the needs of Colorado first. Instead, leaders of both parties made their political interests their top priorities.
The plans offered by Senate Democrats were particularly egregious. They initially split western Colorado in half, put Mesa County in the same district as Boulder and separated it from kindred southern Western Slope communities.
They finally abandoned those proposals late last week. But their revised plan still divided the Eastern Plains into two districts, despite the objections of many people in that region.
Republicans sought political gains with districts that left outlying portions of the state much as they are now, but did substantial redrawing of boundaries in the Denver metro area. When they offered Democrats a compromise on metro-area boundaries, the Democrats refused to even consider it as a starting point for renewed negotiations. So Republicans reverted to their earlier boundaries in the bill passed this week.
If nothing is accomplished by midnight tonight, legislative leaders have two options: They can call a special session of the Legislature this summer to address redistricting, or they can turn it over to the courts and let a judge craft new congressional district maps. That’s what occurred 10 years ago, when the two parties couldn’t agree on new districts.
We see little point for a special session on redistricting. Members of the redistricting committee and party leaders had more than four months to develop a reasonable redistricting compromise. They squandered that opportunity in partisan bickering.
We’re not great fans of leaving redistricting to the judicial system, but that appears to be the best of two poor alternatives.
However, Colorado should also begin work now to establish an independent commission to draw new congressional districts in 2021, as other states have done and as Colorado does with legislative redistricting.
It appears that sitting lawmakers are incapable of acting objectively enough to fulfill that responsibility.