First redistricting committee ends in song

The Colorado Statesman

The joint legislative committee that hopes to come up with a bipartisan congressional redistricting map held an organizational meeting this week that ended with a round of “Name That Tune.”

The 10-member committee, five Democrats and five Republicans, met for just over an hour Wednesday to review their road show schedule and the expectations they have for coming up with something the General Assembly can vote on this spring.

The committee was put together by the Speaker of the House and Senate President and announced in December. At that time, Speaker of the House-elect Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said the intent in setting up the committee was to take “the heat and politics” out of drawing congressional boundaries.

By law, those boundaries are to be redrawn after every U.S. census, and are to be drawn by the General Assembly. According to Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, the committee’s co-chair, in the 40 years that it has been the legislature’s responsibility they have never managed to do it — the maps instead have been drawn by the courts. In the last go-round, both the 2001 and 2002 General Assembly failed to come up with a map, and a Denver District Court judge ultimately configured it. The 2003 General Assembly tried to do it over, leading to one of the most acrimonious three days in legislative history, which became known as the “midnight gerrymander.” The Colorado Supreme Court eventually threw out that map.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to make history,” Heath said Wednesday. “The General Assembly has not done a great job of fulfilling its duty, and we have an opportunity to change that.”

Heath said some at the capitol have been “making bets” that the joint committee won’t be successful and that it’s a “futile exercise.” This committee “will prove them wrong,” he predicted.

Heath also pointed out that doing the redistricting work during the session, instead of through a special session, will save the state about $500,000. “It’s my intent to repay the confidence in us with a bill to the General Assembly in the time specified,” Heath said. The committee is expected to complete its work and present a report to the legislature on April 14.

Co-chair Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said the committee “is serious about passing a fair map with a transparent process” by the end of April. “Let’s put [negative] expectations to bed. The construction of a state’s congressional districts is the job of the legislature. Let’s not leave it to the courts.”

The best possible outcome, according to Heath and Balmer, is that the committee comes up with one bill and one map. Balmer noted that the House and Senate leadership control late bill status, and that the committee needs to do “the work of compromise” to come up with one bill that all ten can vote out and on to the full Legislature.

Preliminary census data, according to Jeremiah Barry of Legislative Legal Services indicates that the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts are both underpopulated, and the 7th Congressional District is overpopulated. Complete census data, which goes down to the neighborhood block level, won’t be available until mid-February, and detailed political data from the Secretary of State won’t be available until March.

That gives the committee little time to come up with a map by the end of April. They will travel to the congressional districts at the end of February through mid-March to gather public input. “Ideally, you would have a plan to take out to the public,” Barry said, but since the data won’t be available until mid-March that isn’t going to happen.

Once the public hearings are over, the hard work of the committee begins, Barry said. The committee members have the option of learning how to use specialized mapping software purchased by the Legislative Council, or they can give their ideas to Legislative Council staffers who will draw the maps for them.

The meeting ended on a light-hearted note when Balmer announced he was starting a “name that tune” contest among the committee members. The winner would win a congressional map, drawn to his/her specifications, and a chance at a congressional district. Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Yuma, won the first round, but joked that if he “wanted a congressional seat [U.S. Rep.] Cory Gardner would be unemployed.”

Balmer predicted the committee would come up with a map. “Go ahead and book your flights” for summer vacation, he told the members. “There will be no special session.”

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com