Redistricting panel remains deadlocked

A legislative panel that is trying to draw new congressional district lines failed Wednesday to come up with a single map on which Republicans and Democrats could agree.

In the first few hours of its second meeting in as many days, committee members argued about how the meeting should be conducted. It became so contentious that the two co-chairmen of the 10-member bipartisan panel, Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder and Republican Rep. David Balmer of Centennial, argued about whose turn it was to hold the gavel.

The five Republicans on the committee said they did not believe the map could be drawn to include competitive districts. The five Democrats said there was no way they would agree to a map that did not outline districts in which Republican and Democratic voters were close in number.

The Democrats asked Republicans numerous times to explain why they drew their maps as they did, something GOP lawmakers finally did after Heath made it clear the entire effort would end if Republicans didn’t explain their thinking.

“It feels like you’re hiding something,” said Rep. Daniel Pabon, D-Denver. “All I can surmise by the silence and the avoidance of explaining is that you are engaging in some sort of nefarious conduct, or you simply don’t know the answer.”

By law, a map must include districts that are as nearly equal in population as possible and don’t violate the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects minority voters. Beyond that, maps can include such subjective factors as creating districts that are as compact as possible and maintaining communities of interest.

Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, argued that previous court cases on redistricting suggested the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains should be in their own districts. But Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said there have been “radically different” population shifts since then and that existing lines don’t mean what they once did.

“It feels like a card game where we keep playing our opening card,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker. “The one card that’s being played is the competitive (districts) card, and the other card that’s being played is the respecting-existing-lines card. We need a new deck of cards.”

Today was supposed to be the panel’s self-imposed deadline for agreeing on a map, but Heath and Balmer plan to go to House and Senate leaders to ask for another week. Whether that extension will be approved, and when the panel will meet again, is to be determined.


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