Redistricting co-chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, has issued a Democratic report stressing the need for competitive districts, and said a bill would likely be introduced in the Legislature this week. Republican leaders, in turn, issued their own statements chastising Democratic efforts as increasing partisan tensions and straying from the purpose of the Committee. They called the Democratic plan a non-starter.
Heath, saying he was concerned that there had been no extension granted to the Committee by either Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, or Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, issued his report stating the Democratic position on redistricting . He said he issued the statement in order to make certain that the process continued to move forward. He said he still hoped for a bipartisan solution.
Heath, in his statement, said the committee had agreed on four principles to guide the General Assembly as it moves forward: provide for equal populations among districts, follow federal and state law, maintain communities of interest, preserve political subdivisions, and assure competitiveness. While competitiveness was listed as number 5 on the list, it appeared to be of the highest priority in Heath’s letter.
“At every public meeting the committee held, we were asked to draw competitive districts to assure neither party has an unfair advantage in any district. It is incumbent upon the members of the General Assembly to address these concerns,” Heath wrote.
He went on to say that a Democratic map would likely be introduced this week.
Republicans immediately issued a response. They called for Democrats to return to the table to continue working on the bipartisan map that had stalled the process Thursday night.
“We have an obligation to the people of Colorado to draw a map,” said committee co-chair, state Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, in a release. “Republicans want a bipartisan and fair map that ensures every voter has a voice, including (those in) rural Colorado. We can do this. It is my hope that the Senate Democrats will work with us to achieve this goal.”
Other Republicans on the Committee, however, pointed to the concerns of many in rural Colorado who fear losing representation.
“If Democrats insist on presenting one of their current maps, then they are insisting on ignoring the people of Colorado. We had hundreds of people who testified before the committee, and we received thousands of emails,” said Rep. B. J. Nikkel, R-Loveland. “Not a single person said they want Boulder with Mesa County, or Larimer County split in two.
No one in Pueblo said they wanted to be lumped with the Denver Metro Area or El Paso County, yet each of the Democrat maps do all of these things.”
After the debate on Thursday, the Colorado Statesman reported that McNulty, like other Republican members of the panel was adamant Democrats return to the table, though the paper noted McNulty’s heavy hand already acting in the discussions.
“That the Democrats have walked away from the bipartisan redistricting process makes it more difficult for us to draw a map that covers all of Colorado, but we’ll continue to push,” McNulty said.
“I’m still hopeful we can arrive at a map,” McNulty said. “We’ll see where the process goes from here.” McNulty didn’t mention that he had a hand in drawing three of the five maps submitted by the Republican members of the committee, or that most of the Republican committee members, when repeatedly asked, couldn’t explain what his maps did.
It is not yet clear how the Legislature will handle redistricting talks after the long Easter-holiday weekend, but it is almost certain partisanship will rise again.
Sen. Rollie Heath’s report to the General Assembly below:
The Joint Select Committee on Redistricting was charged with one of the most important and challenging tasks before the General Assembly. The leadership of the General Assembly tasked the committee with, “…evaluating proposed maps for redistricting, soliciting feedback on the redistricting process and making recommendations to the General Assembly on redistricting.”
The committee traveled the state and conducted ten public meetings, as directed by leadership. Hundreds of Coloradans testified before the committee and thousands emailed and called to offer their thoughts on how Colorado’s congressional districts should be drawn. A consistent message was heard: Every vote should count, district lines should be fair and competitive and districts should not create “congressmen for life.”
In personal stories, many Coloradans testified to the impact of being perpetually in the minority in districts that are “safe” for one party. The safe districts discourage participation in the election process and discourage voting. At every public meeting the committee held, we were asked to draw competitive districts to assure neither party has an unfair advantage in any district. It is incumbent upon the members of the General Assembly to address these concerns.
In fulfilling our work, the committee agreed on the following principles that we recommend to the General Assembly:
1. Provide for equal populations among districts
2. Follow the federal and state law
3. Maintain communities of interest
4. Preserve political subdivisions
5. Assure Competitiveness
As the Senate co-chair, I can tell you this committee has devoted hundreds of hours to execute faithfully its charge. The Democratic members of the committee urge adoption of a competitive map to keep Colorado’s delegation dynamic and responsive to their constituents. Competition is the heart of our democratic process. It gives credibility to the principle of “one person one vote.”
/s/ Rollie Heath