Some groups suspicious of redistricting

The business of reapportioning Colorado for representation in Washington, D.C., might unite metropolitan legislators, but rural-area organizations already are a bit suspicious of the process.

Early indications are Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District will need about 18,000 more residents than it has now, but how its boundaries will be expanded to include those residents will likely be one focus of the fight over how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn.

“I come into redistricting skeptical and with my guard up,” Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

Club 20 represents the counties west of the Continental Divide and accounts for more than half the land area of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which has in recent decades been represented by Democrats and Republicans for multiple terms.

Its relatively sparse population, however, makes the Western Slope attractive to drafters of political lines. That’s even more the case now than in 2000, Brown said, because the Legislature this year eased requirements that congressional districts be drawn with an eye toward preserving communities of interest.

The Western Slope and much of southern Colorado identify themselves as rural areas with similar interests in water issues, especially when the densely populated Front Range is looking for water.

In 2000, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., lobbied the Colorado Legislature to hold the Western Slope together in his district, but lost when the headwaters counties of Eagle, Grand and Summit were placed instead in the 2nd District.

Holding together the Western Slope in a single district would be fine as far as it goes, Brown said, but there is more to the district than that.

“When you’re talking about the 3rd District, there’s a big difference between the Continental Divide and the cultural divide,” Brown said. “To get West Slope representation, you’ve got to get deeper into the West Slope than Summit County.”

Census figures come out Tuesday, and then the business of drawing districts goes into full gear.

A southern Colorado counterpart to Club 20, Action 22, has appointed a committee to study the census and help draft a position on drawing new districts.

One wrinkle is the possibility that Chaffee County, split by the Arkansas River, has voiced interest in being included in the 3rd Congressional District, Action 22 President and Chief Executive Officer Cathy Garcia said.

“They’re tied into the Arkansas Valley water system, and they don’t feel a lot in common with El Paso County and Teller County,” Garcia said.

The way the 3rd Congressional District is configured and how that plays into state politics is a murky subject at best. The last time Colorado was divided up, it was to add a seventh congressional district. No new district is at play, but state politics are.

“The Democrats are clearly going to strengthen” the 7th District seat held by Democrat Ed Perlmutter, “and it’s our hope to solidify the 4th and 3rd” districts, said Mike Hesse, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Scott Tipton of the 3rd District.

The 4th District seat in November went from Democrat Betsey Markey to Republican Cory Gardner.

Legislators said this week they expect the drafting process will be less bitter than the process undertaken in 2000 and 2003.

“Nobody knows what that means,” Hesse said of the apparent goodwill among legislative leadership.

“I’m delighted to hear the two parties are playing nice,” Brown said. “But we can’t just have metro-area Democrats and metro-area Republicans getting together and cutting a deal.”


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