Dems to describe their own vision for redistricting of state

Senate Democrats plan to introduce their own congressional district map next week, saying a bipartisan panel looking at doing that has fulfilled its obligations.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder and co-chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting, said Friday the 10-member panel did everything it was charged with doing short of coming up with a map Democrats and Republicans agree on.

In his final report to the Colorado Senate, Heath said a map will be introduced into the Legislature sometime next week.

“As the Senate co-chair, I can tell you this committee had devoted hundreds of hours to execute faithfully its charge,” Heath wrote in the report. “The Democratic members of the committee urge adoption of a competitive map to keep Colorado’s delegation dynamic and responsive to their constituents.”

Instead of announcing plans to do the same thing, Republicans on the panel criticized Heath, accusing him and other Democrats on the committee of being unwilling to draw a bipartisan map and calling on them to return to the negotiating table.

Attempts to reach a compromise broke down late Wednesday, one day before the committee’s deadline to complete work.

At the time, the two sides couldn’t reach agreement on just about anything, including when which of the two co-chairmen, Heath or Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, should be holding the gavel to control the meeting. It ended with both men saying they would ask House and Senate leaders who created the panel in January for more time.

“I did ask the speaker (Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch) for one more week,” Balmer said. “We continue to want to draw a bipartisan and fair map in committee so that the people can watch each mouse click.”

During their talks, Democrats insisted there would be no compromise if at least five of the state’s seven congressional districts weren’t drawn to include a relatively even number of registered Democrats and Republicans.

GOP lawmakers on the panel, however, said it wasn’t possible to draw competitive districts, adding they preferred instead to have districts that more closely mirror those already in use.

Maps proposed by both sides have been criticized by observers inside and outside the Capitol. The Republicans maps were panned by Democrats as trying to disenfranchise minority voters to help ensure the GOP has a voter advantage in all but two districts. The Democrats, meanwhile, released maps that completely remake the state, including splitting the Western Slope and placing Mesa County in the 2nd Congressional District with Boulder.

“Not a single person said they want Boulder with Mesa County or Larimer County split in two,” said Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland and a committee member. “No one in Pueblo said they wanted to be lumped with the Denver metro area, yet each of the (Democratic) maps do all of these things.”

Lawmakers have two-and-a-half weeks remaining in the 2011 session to debate whatever maps are introduced. If no map is approved, legislators could convene a special session or wait until next year’s session to try again. The new lines won’t be needed until next year’s elections.

Eric Brown, spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the governor is hopeful the Legislature will approve a map.

“We are optimistic the Legislature will get it done,” Brown said. “We won’t speculate on a special session and will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.”


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