The 11-member body that is charged with redrawing the state’s House and Senate seats heard the first suggestions from the general public on Tuesday, and while the number of people who showed up to speak were few, their testimony was potent.
The reapportionment commission began the public testimony portion with the southern region of Colorado, which includes House Districts 46, 47, 60 and 62 and Senate Districts 2 and 3. Counties in the district are Pueblo, Saguache, Rio Grande, Huerfano, Las Animas, Alamosa, Mineral, Conejos and Costilla, although Fremont County, which is part of HDs 46, 47 and 60, also became part of the conversation Tuesday.
They began with that area because it is likely to be the most complex of the regions that will be redrawn; HD 62 is under the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and must be drawn as a majority-minority district; that is, a majority of the residents must come from a minority population.
Complicating the issue: the dramatic drop in population in five of the region’s 10 counties. Based on the 2010 census, the average number of residents in each House district must be near 77,372; for each Senate district the average should approach 143,690 each. But because of the population declines in the region, three of the House districts need to gain residents: HD 62 is under-populated by 11,645 residents; HD 46 is under by 11,914, and HD 60 is under by 5,333. The only House district in the region that needs to shed population is HD 47, which is over by 3,197 residents.
The commission also showed the first signs of partisanship on Tuesday, when deciding how to split the state up into the rest of the regions, which will determine how the maps are drawn as well as the location of meetings that will take place in those regions later this summer.
Several of the Southern Colorado residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting asked that the commission draw the House districts so that Pueblo County would have three districts, rather than its current four; and that HD 62 be drawn in a way to come as close as possible to a 50 percent Hispanic population. That would allow for greater Hispanic representation in the surrounding districts. HD 62 is approximately 56 to 58 percent Hispanic, according to Latino community activist Teresa Trujillo of Pueblo.
Those who testified also had a lot to say about how HD 47 should look. It’s the only House district in the region represented by a Republican, Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo, despite having a 6 percent advantage in Democratic voter registration. Kevin Bradley, representing the Fremont County Democratic Party, said his county is part of three House districts, although its population is one-third of that of Pueblo. He asked that the county come out of two of those districts, HD 47 and HD 21 (El Paso County), and if more population is needed, to go west for it into Chaffee County since the two counties include a lot of correctional facilities. None of the three House representatives whose districts include Fremont County live there, Bradley said, although he referred to Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who represents HD 60, as a “Godsend. It’s hard to believe he’s a Republican,” Bradley joked. If county integrity is important, it’s time to make Fremont County whole within one district, Bradley explained.
Trujillo also suggested that HD 47 be wholly encompassed in Pueblo County as a way of increasing its Hispanic population. She suggested HD 47 be drawn as a “donut” around HD 46, and that would also increase the Hispanic population of HD 46 into the mid-40s percent, she said.
More public testimony in the region will take place once the commission has come up with its preliminary map, which is expected by September 5. Once the commission has taken the plan around the state, it must be finalized and sent to the Colorado Supreme Court by October 7.
The commission wrangled a bit on Tuesday about how to split up the last four of the seven regions (the commission had already decided on how to split up the Western Slope and Eastern Plains, which will be covered in the next two hearings).
Commission member and Democrat Arnold Salazar proposed that region four include El Paso, Douglas, Park, Teller, Fremont and Custer counties, a proposal met with opposition from his Republican colleague, Rob Witwer, who objected to including El Paso and Douglas counties. The region was decided on a 7-4 vote, the first divided vote, and largely along party lines, by the commission. It didn’t stop there.
The next region to be decided, five, was one that included Larimer and Weld counties, with a suggestion from Commissioner and Republican Mario Nicolais to include Boulder, Broomfield, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties. That produced opposition from almost everyone else, who noted that residents of Larimer and Weld showed quite strongly during the redistricting hearings that they did not want to be included with Boulder. “The Republic of Boulder doesn’t fit with Larimer and Weld,” quipped Democrat Wellington Webb, and Nicolais’ suggestion died for a lack of a second. The Larimer/Weld region was adopted on a 10-1 vote.
Region six would be made up of Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, Gilpin, Clear Creek and Adams counties, which drew opposition from Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. Commissioner Arnold Salazar, who suggested the pairing, said the only reason for including Adams County was simply to avoid having eight or nine regions around the state, acknowledging that there isn’t a strong community of interest between it and the rest of the counties in the group. In the end, the commission decided to put Clear Creek and Gilpin into region four, with objection from Carroll; and to approve region six with the rest of the suggested counties, with Nicolais and Republican Gayle Berry in opposition. The commission ended its work with the last region, which will be Denver and Arapahoe counties, and that decision got a unanimous vote.
The commission meets again next Monday, June 6.