Redistricting bills heard while negotiations continue

Democrats and Republicans held hearings on dueling redistricting maps at the Capitol Thursday while party leadership negotiated with the governor to find a solution to partisan gridlock.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Sen. President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, met with Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss a possible compromise on Thursday. While it is unclear what occurred during those discussions, Hickenlooper has previously said that creating competitive districts is the purpose for redistricting. Still, despite a possible compromise, testimony continued in packed hearings for both a Senate sponsored Democratic map and a House sponsored Republican map.

With testimony relatively the same in both hearings, with rural and often Republican communities predominantly testifying in favor of the Republican plan, it appeared clear that neither side planned to make any serious amendments to their maps during the committee hearings. After hours of debate, both Democrats and Republicans passed their own bills.

“The reason so many people and organizations are supporting our map is because we listened and have taken into account what they wanted in a redistricting map and kept communities whole,” Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said.

Some Democratic observers said the predominance of those favoring the Republican plan was the result of Republican Party emails sent out to its members.

While most West Slope politicians and residents testified in favor of the Republican map, many had not yet seen the newest iteration of the Democratic plan. The map which reunifies the Western Slope and returned Grand Junction into its fold appeased many of those residents. However, their complaints were quickly replaced by those of Douglas and Fremont counties and the southeastern corner of the state who were included in the 2nd CD and 5th CD respectively.

Fremont county resident Richard Elsner said they had nothing in common with Boulder nor did their working class residents feel that they should be represented by someone who was also representing the ski resorts.

Others testified in the Senate hearing that by placing the Lower Arkansas River Valley in the same congressional district as Colorado Springs, currently represented by U.S Rep. Doug Lamborn, long-fought battles over natural resources would no longer be overseen by a single representative for the district. They area is currently in district four, represented by U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, stressed the point with Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who was sponsoring the bills in committee. Grantham told Heath he was putting two interests which have been at loggerheads with each other under the same umbrella, asking him if he realized that was the case.

“Of course,” Heath responded, but said that there were no perfect districts where all interests could have their own special representation.

Democrats stepped up to testify on the bill and said that they were greatly in favor of more competitive districts in Colorado, an element that supporters of the Republican maps and Republicans themselves said were non-issues for them in the redrawing of district lines.

“I believe that Coloradans across the state deserve a redistricting map across the state that is reflective of the competitive nature of our electorate,” Colorado Democratic Party Executive Director Alec Garnett said. “The Balmer map was obviously drawn in a backroom by a partisan surgeon who ever so slightly cut out neighborhoods from one district to steal the seat from Democrats.”

The Republican map proposal gives Republicans four safe seats and Democrats the 1st CD and the 2nd CD. The Democratic map gives only one safe district to each party, and creates five relatively competitive districts with most of those leaning in favor of Republicans.

While Democrats in the House moved to amend the Republican bill and replace it with the Senate version in the House committee, that notion fell flat. Both parties passed their own bills which will now go to the floor of their respective chambers for full consideration.

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