As legislative session ticks rapidly down, Colorado redistricting bills move forward

DENVER– It’s closing time. The swing-state Colorado legislature has one day left in the regular session this year for Republicans and Democrats to come together and deliver a congressional redistricting plan to the governor. The Republican-controlled House managed to pass its version onto the Senate this morning and, after a stop-and-start filibuster that stretched into the wee hours last night, the Democratic-controlled Senate today moved its version forward for a final reading.

At a capitol press conference held minutes ago, Senate President Brandon Shaffer said the House redistricting bill has been assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee.

There are seven congressional districts in Colorado. Four seats are presently held by Republicans and three by Democrats. The Fourth District seat has swung between the two parties in the last two elections.

Lawmakers in Denver and their supporters around the state have been wrangling to present maps shaped by different priorities. Democrats have been working to establish competitive districts while Republicans have been working mostly to maintain communities of interest, where smaller conservative western slope populations, for instance, wouldn’t be represented by lawmakers popular with residents of larger front-range cities and suburbs.

Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland (CD4), said the judicial guidelines put in place by the legislature support the map passed by the House.

“This is a fair map. This is a good map,” she said.  

Concessions floated in the House that seemed to be gaining traction at first, fell through, and House Democrats unanimously abandoned the plan. Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the House and the bill passed by exactly one vote, 33 to 32.

The Republican bill leaves the district maps essentially as they have been for the last ten years. Most analysts say the maps create two competitive districts in addition to three safely Republican and two safely Democratic districts.

“We have the criteria. We have the road map in place,” Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, said. “This map has followed that road map.”

Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said that only one chamber of the General Assembly has been serious about passing a redistricting plan. He complained that this year was the perfect opportunity to carve out a bipartisan map but that Democrats were trying less to do that than they were merely trying to proffer a bill for a lawsuit.

Democrats have benefited from relying on the courts to decide on the districts in the past. Courts overturned a map drawn and rushed through in the dark of night last time around by majority Republicans.

Balmer said that, despite the fact that the Senate is struggling to compromise and already weathered a filibuster, he thought legislators could succeed in getting a map to the governor by midnight Wednesday.

Additional writing and reporting by John Tomasic.

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