Rural groups file brief to keep ‘communities of interest’ together

Club 20, Progressive 15, Action 22

GRAND JUNCTION — Club 20, the lobbying and promotional group for Colorado’s Western Slope for nearly 60 years, has gone to court for the first time to advocate for its position.

The organization, with support from Progressive 15 and Action 22, like-purposed groups for northern and southern Colorado, respectively, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Denver District Court calling for preservation of “communities of interest” in congressional redistricting.

The court is scheduled to begin a nine-day trial on Oct. 11 to resolve a plethora of maps proposed by competing groups, political parties and individuals in the always-controversial redistricting, which occurs every 10 years.
Club 20’s map, says executive director Bonnie Petersen, sets out the “minimal disruption” of any map submitted to the court.

Most importantly for the Western Slope, it would reunite Grand County, headwaters of the Colorado River, with the 3rd District, removing it from the 2nd District, where Grand County has resided uneasily with Boulder County the last 10 years.

In an affidavit supporting the Club 20 brief, Grand County ranch owner Daniel L. Ritchie, former University of Denver chancellor and current chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, cited water, transportation, public lands management and tourism as reasons to place Grand County back into the 3rd District.

In its brief, Club 20 argues that Grand County, which has the Colorado River’s headwaters in its boundaries, has been placed with water-hungry Front Range counties that already take huge amounts from the Western Slope and thirst for more. Meanwhile, Grand County, like other Western Slope counties in the Colorado River drainage, faces the threat of lower basin calls under the Colorado River Compact.

Club 20’s brief notes that with the support of Action 22 and Progressive 15, the filing represents 58 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Peterson acknowledged that the number is actually 59, plus two Ute Indian tribes, because Lake and Jackson counties are members of Club 20 even though they are not located on the Western Slope.

While Grand County would be placed back in the 3rd District by the Club 20 map, two other Western Slope counties, Eagle and Summit, would remain in the 2nd District “because the numbers just didn’t work,” Petersen said.

Club 20 regularly testifies and submits comments to federal and state legislative committees, field hearings and agency hearings, but went to court for the first time when it filed in Denver District Court.

“In the last redistricting, we lost Summit and Eagle (from the 3rd) and the court did it, so court is where we went this time,” she said.

The Club 20 brief notes that federal and state courts have previously identified as communities of interest the Eastern Plains, the Western Slope and a consolidated Pueblo-San Luis Valley. Club 20’s map would preserve all three, it said.

Action 22, made up of 22 counties in southern and southeastern Colorado, supports the Club 20 filing because “rural areas need a representative and are a community of interest,” said executive director Cathy Garcia. “After the fiasco the legislature did, we took more interest to keep rural communities together.”

Action 22 can call upon four congressmen, with its counties placed in the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th districts, she said. But the 3rd District covers more than half of Action 22 territory, with the 4th holding the next largest share.

Cathy Shull, executive director of Progressive 15, said the Club 20 map affords the best representation of rural areas of any of the proposed maps. The vast majority of Progressive 15 territory lies within the 4th District, she said, although there are small areas in the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th.

“We believe communities of interest should be the No. 1 priority, and other maps take rural representation away,” she said. “As rural communities, we represent food, fiber and energy and rural representation cannot be lost.”

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