House Republicans introduced their version of what could be the map of the political battlefield Tuesday. While Republicans called the map an olive branch extended to their Democratic colleagues,they actually carved out four of the seven districts to favor themselves.
The bill leaves Colorado’s seven congressional districts much as they are today by keeping the Western Slope and Eastern Plains voting blocs intact. However, the bill also gives Republicans at least four secure districts, while giving Democrats two likely wins. Though new to the bill, Democrats said they were disturbed by what looked like a lack of competitiveness and said the map looked drawn in Republicans’ favor.
“The people of Colorado want a map that ensures they have a voice in Washington, D.C.” said Redistricting Committee member Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “The Colorado Communities Map does this by keeping the Western Slope whole and respecting the Eastern Plains. This map also keeps El Paso County whole in order to protect the voice of our military members and their families.”
The bill, which creates outlines for state congressional district borders, was introduced by Republicans in response to a Democratic map issued in the Senate last week, after a bipartisan committee, put together to develop districts, collapsed under partisan pressures. If a bill is not adopted by the end of the session the issue will either be handled in a special session or be taken up by the courts.
Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R- Highlands Ranch, said during a press conference, that the map included a few Democratic desires and should be viewed as an olive branch, though he did not appear overly interested in further compromise. He targeted Democrats for not listening to Colorado’s communities of interest and said that it was clear equalizing party affiliation amongst districts in Colorado was not necessary as Colorado had already proved to be competitive.
However, Rep. David Balmer, R-Colorado Springs, said that they still had the computer programs and there was still time to use the maps to find consensus before the end of the session.
“We could potentially put some of their ideas into our maps,” Balmer said. “So the door is wide open for discussion.”
While Republican and Democratic maps both give CD 1 (Denver) to Democrats and CD 5 (Colorado Springs) to Republicans, the Republican maps give Republicans the advantage of 36 to 32 percent in CD 3 which encompasses the Western Slope and greatly increases the likelihood that Republicans will hold the 4th CD of the Eastern Plains, a seat Rep. Cory Gardner now holds. The 4th CD would stretch from Larimer County down to Baca County and would see 27 percent of the voters registered as Democrats and 37 percent registered as Republicans. District 6, which would include Douglas and Arapahoe counties, would see a 29-39 split with Republicans with a firm advantage over Democrats. Jefferson County would make up the bulk of CD 7 and could be in play with a 34/32 split putting Democrats in the majority. The Counties of Boulder, Broomfield, Grand, Eagle and Summit then would be lumped into CD 2 where Democrats will continue to hold the lead with 36 percent of voters registered as Democrats as opposed to 26 percent Republicans.
Heath said that while he planned to look at the maps he was still unhappy with Republican admissions that they had skewed the map in favor of Republicans.
“We’ve all along expressed our willingness to work with them,” Heath said. “Hopefully, they have created a competitive district. I must admit that I am a little concerned that the word ‘competitiveness’ is not in [the Republican] press release anywhere.”
Democrats made competitiveness the hallmark of their maps, and in doing so, made large changes to the current representation lines. The act has caused many rural communities to lash out at the maps and raised concerns that they would lose their voice if urban centers were brought into their district and diluted their voting power.
Democrats, however, said their moves were both designed to stick to transportation corridors and provide a voice to many citizens who felt the lack of competition was creating seats where office-holders were no longer accountable to the voters.
Heath told reporters that he felt the sudden change was leading people to dislike the bill more than the actual borders themselves.
“Coloradans deserve competitive districts that don’t allow congressman for life and we have steadfastly maintained that.” Heath said that they are going to sit down and look at the Republican map but he thought they would see maps that would allow people to hold their position till at least the next redistricting occurs in ten years.
Both sides continue to blame each other for the breakdown of bipartisan negotiations while the time is quickly expiring on this year’s legislative session, a point that all members addressed in stating that they are looking for ways not to take the map to the courts.
Republicans said that they will have their first committee hearing on Thursday for the bill. Democrats said that they are going to look more closely at the Republican legislation before they have their own proposal heard in the Senate.
“It’s concerning to me that this is the first time we’re seeing this map, with just a week left before the session ends, despite months to present it to the Joint Select Committee,” Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said of the Republican bill. “We hope to shed some sunlight on the new bill in Committee in the coming days.”