Slate wiped clean on redistricting, but competitiveness remains a sticking point

Tuesday, the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Select Committee on Redistricting agreed that partisan emotions ran too high at Friday’s sharing of maps, but there appeared to be little common ground on at least one major Democratic starting point–competitiveness. Republicans rejected that as a compelling factor and called for a blank map created without looking at political balance. Democrats said that voters were calling for competition in a state where many districts have solid Republican numbers.

“Competitiveness is our starting point,” Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the Colorado Independent. She said Democrats needed that before any compromise could be reached. “Many people are feeling that they have no voice.”

Republicans, including Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said competitiveness was simply not something they were interested in discussing as Colorado had already elected a number of Democratic representatives from even Republican heavy districts.

Brophy told Carroll at the end of the meeting that he wanted to remove the political aspect of the district lines and simply look at the communities of interest important to the citizens of the state.

“I think that we have already established that Colorado is, by its nature, competitive and that competitiveness is not part of the criteria that we are supposed to be taking into account in the redrawing of these seats,” Brophy said.

Earlier this session, Republicans ran a bill that would prohibit the courts from using political party affiliation as a factor when determining congressional district lines.

Democrats and Republicans ultimately agreed to start with a blank map after a weekend where Democratic maps were seen as failing to represent the rural communities effectively and Republican maps were characterized as increasing the safety margins of three Republican and two Democratic districts. Still, Democrats were visibly irritated that they had presented the reasoning behind their maps to Republicans but felt they hadn’t received the same courtesy in return.

Specifically, Democrats hoped to hear about the revised McNulty Map C, which was placed on the wall for discussion and was referred to by Brophy as the map he thought would answer many mutual concerns. While Brophy said he did not see a need for Republicans to further discuss their maps Tuesday night, he did give some insight into their political reasoning.

Brophy said that unlike Democrats who recreated the congressional district map, Republicans, knowledgeable that they did not control all of the seats of power in the state, had only marginally moved the lines to include population growth. He said “tweaks” were made in favor of Republicans so that they would have bargaining chips at the table.

The original McNulty Map C maintains CD 1 and 2 as Democratic strongholds and retains the deep dominance of Republicans in CD 4, CD 5, and CD 6. The plan’s only real changes to the current configurations is to increase the Republican numbers and decrease Democratic numbers in CD 3 and CD 7 which are seen as competitive districts.

The poker metaphor continued to play out throughout the evening as Republicans continued to keep their cards close to their chests. When it came time for Republicans to reveal the reasoning behind McNulty Map C, co-chair of the committee Balmer said that it was time to stop the petty bickering and begin with a bipartisan map. He then launched into a team-building program he had set up with legislative staff earlier in the day. The exercise began with his prompting members to begin filling in a blank map with the counties they wanted in each district. While the event was well received, it proved only to further a discussion about the starting points needed in a compromise.

Co-chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said the process of developing a map would be easier if they combined each group’s favored map and started with the commonalities. After considerable discussion, Democrats decided to use their City Integrity Map 1; Republicans asked that legislative staff use all of their maps in the comparison process.

City Integrity Map 1 stuck to Democratic goals by keeping cities whole and generating 5 competitive congressional districts with only CD1 and CD 5 controlled by Democrats and Republicans respectively. Two of the districts, CD 2 and CD 3, favor Republicans while the other two are tossups. In creating those districts however, City Integrity 1 greatly changes the current configuration of the state district lines.

Throughout the discussion Democrats and Republicans said their district lines remain open to change. But clear sticking points were readily apparent.

While Democrats had looked to maintain communities of interest including cities, water basins and transportation corridors, Republicans had worked to remain close to the current court-ordered lines while working to maintain counties, one of the main communities of interest.

Republicans remained deeply disconcerted that both the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains were split, and they went on to say that splitting up the Republican stronghold of El Paso County and Douglas County was unacceptable in a bipartisan atmosphere.

Democrats maintained that nothing was off the table at this point except for the need to maintain communities of interest and competitiveness within districts. They maintained that voters in both Democratic and Republican areas had complained at redistricting meetings that their voices were not recognized by their representatives.

“Let me be very candid on our negotiating posture,” Carroll said. “We actually reduced our numbers in 5 of the districts, now if we are trying to win them all why would you do that. It is because we are actually trying to make them competitive.”

Balmer said that while they are pushing to meet the Thursday deadline to present a redistricting bill to the Legislature, it is likely the deadline will need to be pushed back a week. The decision to move that date will be decided by the Senate president and speaker of the House.

The committee will meet again today to begin filling out a blank map.

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