Dem reapportionment maps would open historic number of legislative seats

The Colorado Supreme Court aims to rule on state House and Senate district maps by Wednesday. If the court accepts the proposed maps turned in by the legislature’s reapportionment commission this week, an unprecedented 27 seats will stand wide open without incumbents running for them next year, 19 in the House and 8 in the Senate.

There are 65 seats total in the House and 35 seats total in the Senate.

The preliminary maps have stirred great controversy but many observers believe they hew to constitutional standards and the court will have no strong reason to reject them. What’s more, time is on the side of the maps.

Incumbents have placed their candidacies on hold until the maps are approved, and the historic number of likely open seats means the legislature will have to attract lots of new candidates. Those untried politicians will want to get up to speed fast. Indeed, county clerks have yet to draw precinct boundaries as well as set up for a major election year caucus season, which is fast approaching.

Republicans have decried the maps, which were submitted by the Democratic members of the commission and approved based on a deciding vote cast by lone unaffiliated commissioner Mario Carrera. Republicans say Democrats drew the maps to force influential Republican incumbents into the same districts so they would have to run against one another. They say Carrera sided with the Democrats for ideological reasons, that he was never independent and that the commission gave Democrats additional time to rework their maps.

Opponents of the maps had until Thursday night to submit briefs with the court, and Republicans surely submitted a raft of material.

It’s doubtful, however, that the Supreme Court justices will get too bogged down in partisan complaints about process. In the fraught politically charged matter of drawing voting maps, there would be no end to such considerations.

Ernest Luning at the Colorado Statesman has written a comprehensive piece on the seats that will open this year, if the maps presently before the court are accepted. The court could well remand those maps to the commission any time.

[T]he high number of paired incumbents doesn’t mean they’ll all be running against each other for a limited number of seats. As part of the usual General Assembly churn, a good number of the incumbents drawn into districts with other incumbents are facing term limits, while others have said they’ll be moving on and declining to seek reelection, as noted above.

But on top of that, a dozen more seats — seven in the House and five in the Senate — will be open in next year’s election due solely to term limits…

Throw in at least two House members who have said they won’t seek reelection, leaving their seats open…

Because some lawmakers fall into more than one category — drawn in with another incumbent but leaving anyway due to term limits or retirement — it all adds up to 19 open House seats and eight open Senate seats next year, and that’s assuming there won’t be any more lawmakers who decline to seek another term.

It has been tempting to count Colorado among the less exciting 2012 election battlegrounds because no statewide seats are open next year. The high number of open seats these maps guarantee, however, might stoke election season fires and draw more voters to the polls.