Reapportionment Commission already approves first map

The Colorado Statesman

Two state senators could wind up in new districts under a preliminary map approved Monday by the state Reapportionment Commission.

The commission, on a 9-2 vote, drew new boundaries for two Senate districts in southern Colorado and on a 7-4 vote approved new maps for three House districts in the same region.

The southern Colorado region was selected first for drawing maps because one of its House districts, HD 62, falls under a mandate from the federal Voting Rights Act that it be drawn as a majority-minority district. Under the map approved Monday, HD 62 would be 50.33 percent Hispanic, down about 2 percent from its previous Hispanic population. Commissioner and Democrat Dolores Atencio of Pueblo said that by drawing HD 62 at 50 percent, it would meet the VRA requirements and allow for greater Hispanic representation in neighboring HD 46, which would increase from about 44 to 47 percent Hispanic.

As to the Senate districts, Sens. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Kevin Grantham, R-Fremont, were drawn out of much of their districts in the map approved Monday and drawn by Commissioner and Democrat Arnold Salazar of Alamosa. Schwartz’s Senate District 5 runs from Pitkin County through the San Luis Valley. However, the northern boundary of that district, as drawn by the new map, is now Saguache County, two counties south of Pitkin County, where Schwartz lives. Grantham’s SD 2 includes most of southeastern Colorado, but he lives in Fremont County, which was drawn out of that district in Monday’s map.

The new map basically combines SD 2 and SD 5, with a second Senate district just for the city of Pueblo, which is currently represented by freshman Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Both SD 2 and SD 5 needed to add population: SD 2 needed more than 13,000 residents to bring it up to the ideal; SD 5 needed more than 6,000.

If the map holds, it could put both incumbents in a peculiar position of being grandfathered into a district where they don’t live. Both won elections last November: Schwartz was re-elected to a second term that ends in 2014 and Grantham won election to his first term.

The commission had previously decided it would not draw maps that would put two incumbents into the same district, but in creating the new southern district they drew a map that has no Senate incumbents living within its borders. It leaves open the possibility that either Schwartz or Grantham would have to be grandfathered into another district outside of the southern region.

Schwartz told The Colorado Statesman Tuesday that the San Luis Valley represents about one-third of the population of her district, and it would be a “huge loss. I’ve worked hard to identify the issues and work with the people of the valley,” she said. “It would be very peculiar not to have them.” Schwartz added that having the valley in her district also serves it well because of its diversity. There are things that all the residents of the district share, Schwartz said, such as interests in schools, jobs and water, although she also said that she appreciated the need to have a district with a strong minority focus.

Grantham accused the commission of deliberately moving him out of his district, pointing out that the new district took eight of the nine counties in his current seat and left out the only one in which he lives. He indicated that the commission had gone back on its vow not to “mess around” too much with current districts and to keep incumbents in place. “It’s silly to take counties from three Senate districts and create a new one when there’s no open seat,” he told The Statesman Tuesday. “It’s ridiculous to come up with this scenario when there are other alternatives. It smacks of something rotten in Denmark.”

The Senate map approved Monday also cuts into the southern portion of SD 1, currently represented by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is term-limited in 2014. The map puts Kiowa and Prowers counties into the new Senate district, which had previously been part of SD 1, further aggravating an under-population problem for the district. According to an apportionment document, each Senate district must have 143,691 residents each, or within a deviation that is 5 percent or below that figure. According to the 2010 census, SD 1 is already under-populated by 18,537 residents; removing Kiowa and Prowers counties, would add nearly 14,000 to that total.

Finding more than 32,000 residents to add to SD 1 raises concerns for Eastern Plains residents who fear losing that area’s rural voice. Cathy Shull of Progressive 15, a Northeastern Colorado advocacy group, testified to those concerns during Monday’s hearing.

She noted that the district currently is 35,000 square miles, covering more than one-third of the state. Residents worry that the area’s three House seats and Senate seat could be re-drawn in such a way to bring in urban areas and hence would lose its rural voice, she explained.

What concerns the area’s residents the most, Shull said, is HD 63 and HD 65, currently represented by freshman legislator Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and three-term Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, respectively. Shull said she feared the map could be drawn to put Fort Morgan and Sterling into the same district, costing the district one of its rural representatives. A third representative from the Eastern Plains, Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, is term-limited in 2012.

But what would be better: more representatives whose districts include suburban or urban areas, or fewer representatives but from largely rural areas? That’s a question that was posed to Shull by Commissioner Rob Witwer, and her response was that the Northeastern region wants its two rural representatives, meaning Becker and Sonnenberg.

Shull’s concerns were echoed by long-time Democratic Party activist Doug Schroeder, who also asked that the maps keep the three rural House districts on the Eastern Plains. HD 65 could be left as is, Schroeder explained; at 77,293 residents it is under by only 79 from the ideal of 77,372. HD 63, on the other hand, needs to gain 7,663 residents and Schroeder suggested that the commission could go into eastern Pueblo, Otero, Bent or Prowers counties for that increase without losing its rural feel. But that would also cut into HD 64, McKinley’s district, which is already under-populated by 14,197 residents.

The commission decided to adopt a preliminary House map for the southern region, drawn by Atencio, which creates three House districts: one that drew HD 47 as a “donut” around the city of Pueblo, a second district within Pueblo, and a third in the western part of the region that creates an HD 62 seat to meet the VRA requirements.

In addition to HD 62, the House seats affected by the new map are HD 46, which is the district of Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and HD 47, currently represented by freshman Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West. The map’s biggest change is in removing Custer and a portion of Fremont from HD 47 and bringing in Las Animas County.

While Atencio’s map was the one adopted, Republican Commissioner Mario Nicolais put up a fight for his map, which would have included Custer County in HD 47. Under Atencio’s map, the district’s party registration for Democrats would increase by about 2 percent, and for Republicans would increase by about 3 percent. Under Nicolais’ map, the district would increase its Democratic representation by about 1.5 percent, and its Republican representation by about 3.5 percent. The district currently leans Democratic, 37 percent to 32 percent Republican.

The commission ended its meeting Monday with a dust-up over a “footprint” of the remaining regions submitted by Nicolais. He explained that sectoring the state into the seven regions was only for purposes of public notice and testimony, and that it wasn’t intended as a way to draw the House and Senate seats within each region. Nicolais said his “footprint” would provide guidance on how many House and Senate seats to draw in each region, but it drew criticism from commissioners that Nicolais was trying to influence the commission staff in how to draw the seats in the rest of the state. Commissioner Gayle Berry agreed with Nicolais about his views on the regions, but said the discussion was devolving into a “study of personalities” that had dominated the commission earlier in the day.

The commission meets again next Monday, where they will look at a staff map for the Eastern and Northeastern Plains and review commissioner-drawn maps for that region. They also will take public testimony on how the House and Senate seats on the Western Slope should be drawn.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com