New district may link Mesa County, Boulder

DENVER — If it were entirely up to Democrats, new congressional district lines in the state would split the Western Slope in half.

As a result, Mesa County no longer would be in the 3rd Congressional District. Instead of Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton representing the region, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, would be the area’s congressman.

All six maps the Democrats unveiled Friday at a Joint Select Committee on Redistricting divide the state along the Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 corridors. It creates a southern Colorado district that includes Montrose County, a northwest district that stretches from Grand Junction to Fort Collins’ west end, and turns the eastern plains’ 4th Congressional District into one that covers only the northeast corner of the state.

In all six of the Democratic maps, no longer would Mesa and Delta counties be communities of interest with La Plata or Pueblo counties. Instead, they would be tied with Boulder and Jefferson counties.

Some of the maps also have Montrose County in the same district as Adams and Arapahoe counties east of Denver.

“On the farm, we have a name for this, but to clean it up I will call it bovine fecal material,” a visibly angry Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said. “We have agriculture. We have tourism. We don’t have anything in common with Adams County. This is absolutely frustrating.”

The Democratic maps help ensure Democrats have a chance to win more congressional seats, but the five GOP maps presented to the committee do the same thing for the Republican Party.

They’re just more subtle, said Rep. Daniel Pabon, D-Denver, who sits on the 10-member committee with Coram.

The state has four Republicans in Congress, while the Democrats have three. The Republicans included enough GOP voters in their maps to keep those seats relatively safe, he said.

Pabon said the maps appear to be similar to how the lines are drawn now, but they change districts around enough to pack Democrats and minorities into the 1st and 2nd congressional districts and keep them out of others, he said.

“What they’re attempting to do is pack the Hispanics into one district and dilute their representation in the metro areas,” Pabon said. “This is a method that’s used to dilute minority influence in voting. They’re making sure that they hang onto a four-three map.”

For the Western Slope, most of the Republican maps keep it in the 3rd Congressional District. But because of population shifts in the state, the district needs to have at least 12,000 more voters.

Republicans handle that primarily by adding Chaffee County into the district, though some would take Grand County out at the same time.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, accused Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, of using his position as co-chairman of the committee to advance his party’s political agenda.

“These maps that the Democrats drew are clearly for Democrats,” he said. “The map that the Democrats have proposed virtually assures that every member of Congress will come from the I-25 corridor. There is no district that is more than 20 minutes from metro Denver.”

McNulty said Heath drew the 4th Congressional District to give Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, a shot at defeating Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner if the senator decides to run for Congress.

Heath, however, said that’s ridiculous because each of the Democratic maps give Republicans at least a 10,000-voter advantage in 4th Congressional District.

“We have drawn as close as we possibly could to creating competitive maps,” said Heath, shaking in anger at McNulty’s accusations. “To cast a dispersion that we did this for Senator Shaffer, I resent greatly.”

His party’s maps were designed to keep the state’s cities as whole as possible, while the Republican maps divide rural and urban areas, Heath said.

The Democratic maps drew immediate reactions from several Western Slope Republicans, who said the region has little in common with the Eastern Plains.

“If any one of these politically motivated maps are adopted, it would be disastrous for my district and for all of southwest Colorado and the San Luis Valley,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

“To lump Mesa County in with Boulder County is absurd,” added Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran. “It would guarantee that our area of the state would be represented by a Boulder liberal who would care more about protecting prairie dogs than about protecting water.”


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