Special session or courts only options left for redistricting

After months of intense talks and partisan attempts to rearrange congressional districts by Republicans and Democrats, the Colorado General Assembly’s redistricting attempt failed to produce a map. The Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee killed an amended Republican map, moving the battle out of the Legislature–at least for now.

While a Democratic map still sits in the Senate with no time for passage, for all practical purposes Tuesday’s committee vote proved to be the last chance either side will have to accomplish what has not been done for thirty years–redraw congressional redistricting lines.

Last-minute attempts to create a compromise went on in secret throughout the day, one of those being broken up when members of the press attempted to use sunshine laws to gain entrance.

Democrats have charged throughout that Speaker of the House Frank McNulty has inserted himself into redistricting conversations that he had not been invited to.

Republicans brought a map similar to the Colorado Communities Map already rejected by Democrats earlier in the process. In contrast to the Democratic map, it kept the Eastern Plains wholly in CD 4 and ensured that Douglas County down to Fremont county were not in a district with Boulder, which would keep CD 6 firmly in U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s hands.

Democrats overall said the maps had been drawn to favor Republicans and refused to pass the bill out of committee.

“I am still against competitive districts,” Francine Thompson from Douglas County testified, in favor of the Republican bill. “To have one third Democrat, one third Republican and one third unaffiliated to me doesn’t make much sense… I live in Douglas County because it is conservative and we do a very good job at keeping Republicans in office.”

Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, told Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who brought the amended map to the committee, that though he respected Brophy’s decision to build maps that protected his party’s positions he could not support the map.

Brophy told Heath that his map shaped districts in a manner that created four districts which were within a one digit percentage in voter registration, as Heath had requested the night before during a Democratic filibustering of his own Senate map proposal.

“I believe that this map represents the wishes of the vast majority of the people who live in Colorado,” Brophy said. “It make minimal changes from existing district lines and I think that is important also.”

Heath, after looking at the map, said that the bill essentially reduces the number of Democrats in comparison to Republicans in each competitive district, including the battleground 7th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Ed Perlmutter. He said the overture to competitiveness did not appear sincere from the map in front of him.

“I just can’t support a map that basically locks in five districts (where) people have a very good chance of being congress-men or -women for life,” Heath said. “We tried. You tried. And I respect that.”

Democrats under their bill would have seen CD 1 and CD 5 as Democratic and Republican strongholds respectively, while creating 5 relatively competitive districts, four districts favoring Republicans overall. Current maps have Democrats holding the controling margin in three districts and Republicans in four.

“Everybody knows that any type of redistricting is about giving their political party an advantage if they can do it. That’s just axiomatic,” Rep. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins said. “And so here we are, we are saying that we don’t necessarily want to give the Democratic Party priority or the Republican, but let’s make them competitive,” Bacon said. “It is my firm belief that unless you allow competitiveness you allow each political party to nominate somebody on the fringe. That isn’t how you get good public policy.”

Rep. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, begged for the party to pass the bill if only to ensure that it be heard on the Senate floor. Heath, however, said he had no appetite to continue a debate he said showed little chance of success.

Talks broke down last week with Senate and House leadership after both sides came close to reaching a compromise. Senate President Brandon Shaffer said that they had come within 5 percent of an agreement a number of times, but McNulty would walk out of the talks only to return to say “not just no, but hell no.”

McNulty, however, said it was Shaffer’s desire to carve out a district for his own political ambitions that led to failure.  

The federally mandated redistricting process can now either be done in a costly special session or it can be taken to the court, where lawsuits will likely drive the cost of the bill up even further.