Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert Hyatt late Thursday ruled in favor of a Democratic proposal to redraw Colorado’s seven congressional districts, creating more competitive boundaries that could thrust Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman into a hotly contested race in Congressional District 6, and affect political outcomes for both Republicans and Democrats over the next decade.
The “Moreno/South” map picked by Hyatt creates significant boundary shifts in some districts, a far cry from the “minimum disruption” status quo map that Republicans had sought during the two-week trial in October. The Colorado Republican Party is still contemplating whether it will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court and expects to make a decision in the next few days. Whatever happens next week, county clerks will need to have definite configurations by Dec. 15 so they can adjust precinct caucus lines.
In his 77-page ruling, Hyatt said Democrats “have most accurately reflected and preserved current communities of interest.”
Hyatt said, “Their districts, as contained in the Moreno/South Map, are also as compact as possible, minimize jurisdictional splits wherever possible, encourage unification of major cities like Aurora and preserve existing district lines as appropriate.”
The boundary shifts have significant political implications, especially with Democrats challenging Republican incumbents in three congressional districts. State House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, is running against U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in CD 3. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, is hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in CD 4. And State Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, is challenging Coffman in CD 6.
Under the new map, Coffman, R-Aurora, will lose crucial Republican-leaning voters in Douglas County, giving a more competitive advantage to Miklosi, at least on paper. Those Douglas County voters will shift over to Gardner’s CD 4, which includes Greeley and most of the Eastern Plains.
CD 6 has been in Republican control since the district was created in 1983. Coffman maintains that he is ready to put up a fight no matter which district he’s in, noting his decorated career as a combat marine.
“We have every confidence that Congressman Mike Coffman, whose district was changed most dramatically by the court ruling, will demonstrate to his new constituents why Colorado is lucky to have a man of such character, talent and principle representing us in Washington, D.C.,” said State Party Chairman Ryan Call in a statement Friday about the redistricting decision.
Miklosi also appears ready to wage a spirited challenge.
“This campaign was never about the lines, this campaign has always been about creating jobs, and I truly believe that to most, if not all voters in Colorado, that’s the No. 1 concern that they have, and that’s the laser focus of my campaign,” Miklosi told The Colorado Statesman on Friday.
But a more competitive congressional district also means a potentially more crowded race for the Democratic nomination in CD 6. State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, had been considered the most likely Democrat to be entertaining a possible congressional candidacy in 2012, but she has reportedly removed her name from further speculation. A couple other Democrats, however, are still mulling over the possibility of running against Coffman in the Democrat-friendlier district.
The map selected by Hyatt also places some suburban metro Denver districts, including the Highlands Ranch portion of Douglas County, in with the new CD 6. That means House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, will remain in the now competitive CD 6. Political observers speculate that McNulty could be an heir to the congressional district over the next decade, but the lawmaker would not discuss the hypothetical scenario.
“I am so focused on growing our House majority, I can’t even begin to think about that,” said McNulty. “People can speculate all they want.”
Concerns with shifts in CD 4 and CD 2
In addition to raising serious concerns with boundary shifts in CD 6, Republican party official Call is also upset about shifting nearly all of Republican-leaning Larimer County from Gardner’s 4th CD into the Democratic-leaning 2nd District, currently represented by Jared Polis, D-Boulder. CD 4 will, however, gain Las Animas and Otero counties from the 3rd CD, as well as Elbert County from the 6th CD. Rural Arapahoe and Adams counties will also shift to the 4th CD under the new map. CD 2 will gain southern Jefferson County and lose a portion of Eagle County.
Call believes that Democrats have focused solely on the competitiveness factor and not on what’s best for Colorado communities and voters. He is equally concerned that Hyatt apparently concurred.
“Of particular concern is this court’s reliance on an artificial notion of competitiveness that is foreign to the State Constitution, state statutes, and case law that should guide the courts in crafting district maps,” Call said in his statement Friday.
Gardner’s district would, however, pick up Republican-leaning Douglas County, as well as rural areas of Adams and Arapahoe counties. Still, the swap is not a complete balance for Gardner, as both Douglas and Larimer counties have a large number of independent voters.
Gardner’s chief of staff, Chris Hansen, would not discuss the redistricting decision directly, saying Gardner is focused on his job in Washington.
“Congressman Gardner was elected to end the wasteful disregard of the taxpayer’s money and get government out of the way so that the Colorado economy can thrive,” Hansen said in a statement to The Statesman.
“He will continue to provide representation that reflects those goals for the remainder of this term. He is currently reviewing Judge Hyatt’s redistricting decision.”
Shaffer’s campaign, meanwhile, says Hyatt’s decision provides them stability in CD 4, noting that it was unclear up until the ruling in which district the Longmont lawmaker was going to be live. Under a preliminary Democratic proposal, Brandon’s hometown of Longmont would have been shifted from CD 4 to Polis’ CD 2. But in the final version of the map, Longmont remains in CD 4.
“Brandon had always said he was going to run in the 4th District. He grew up in the 4th, his home is in Longmont, so it’s good that the lines are now set,” ventured Craig Hughes, Shaffer’s campaign adviser and a high-profile political consultant with RBI Strategies & Research.
“It’s hard to say if it changes anything or not because we’ve been running in essence without knowing what district we’re in,” Hughes said. “Now we have a district to run in so we can take a hard look at what that means.”
In addition to the major changes facing Douglas, Boulder and Larimer counties, Hyatt’s map selection adds Lake County to CD 3 from its previous location in CD 5, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs.
Republicans say pressure ‘grounded’ Dems
Statehouse Speaker McNulty acknowledged that although the judge’s maps veered away from his own party’s preference for “minimum disruption” and instead sided with Democrats, they are actually more “grounded” than before. Democrats had originally proposed pairing conservative Grand Junction with more liberal Boulder. Democrats had also sought to move Parker in Douglas County into Tipton’s CD 3 along the Western Slope. Both proposals outraged Republicans.
“It is unfortunate that the judge decided to adopt the Democrats’ map, but it is clear to me that it is a full retreat from where the Democrats started during the legislative session,” McNulty said. “They learned throughout the process that they over-reached and had to come down to reality.”
Democrats said their goal all along was to create the most accountable districts in Colorado, thereby benefiting voters by forcing candidates and incumbents to reach out to their constituents and listen to concerns. Mark Grueskin, the attorney representing Democratic proposals in court, said he has no problem with anyone taking credit for the maps because the ultimate outcome is one that will benefit the state as a whole.
“I’m happy to have any Coloradans, including the Republican Party, take credit for this map,” he said. “This map was drawn to meet the needs and criteria that are set up for that judicial process, and frankly I don’t think there was ever serious consideration given to using legislative maps in the district court process. So, to the extent that the Republican Party feels like it had a useful role in developing the context of the map, I’m happy to agree.”
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio agreed.
“Judge Hyatt discussed the breadth of Colorado’s makeup, activity, and resources. His attention to this reality means that Colorado voters will have the chance to select representatives in Washington who can champion all of our needs,” Palacio said. “The boundaries drawn by today’s order reflect the Colorado of today and not an outdated version of our rapidly-changing state. Democrats will make their case in every Congressional district for a better future for Colorado families.”