Legislators: Breaking up is hard to do

The emotional toll of reapportionment
The Colorado Statesman

Democratic lawmakers from Denver on Monday evening spoke of the emotional and political toll reapportionment is taking in their districts, especially in House District 3 where Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills, will most likely lose all of his Democratic-leaning Denver precincts and shift over to a split district within Arapahoe County.

At a town hall meeting in south central Denver, a group of seven lawmakers told constituents of the changes to state legislative district lines that have been given preliminary approval by the 11-member bipartisan Reapportionment Commission. The commission is currently touring the state hosting public hearings to take input on proposed maps. The commission will send the drafts for review by the Colorado Supreme Court in October, and once the new maps are approved they will take effect for the 2012 election cycle.

Every 10 years following the Census, the Reapportionment Commission must redraw legislative district lines in order to conform to changing populations. The average House district for the 2011 reapportionment is required to have about 77,300 people. In Denver County, eight districts have almost exactly 77,300 people, meaning the logical choice for the Reapportionment Commission was to draw eight House districts wholly within the county. The Republican-backed proposal, which received a 6-5 party-line vote by the Reapportionment Commission, would draw a district wholly inside Arapahoe County for Kagan, who currently represents portions of Arapahoe County and south central Denver near the University of Denver.

Kagan spoke of the political implications to such a change, though he acknowledged that the proposal is the most practical outcome given the constitutional requirements the Reapportionment Commission must follow, including a guideline to keep counties whole. Politically, however, he will shift from an almost completely Democratic-leaning district to a district split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats. Kagan says he is ready to fight.

“I welcome that. I am quite ready to make my case to those who have not always voted Democratic in the past,” Kagan told constituents with inflection in his English accent. “I’m ready to make a case that they should continue to be represented by me whether or not I am a Democrat or a Republican.

“One thing I firmly believe is that party identification, for most people, is far less sticky, far less of a deterrent than it has been in years past,” Kagan continued.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat and party leader who is a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, will likely take over representation of HD 3. Kagan showered Ferrandino with praise on Monday.

“Mark Ferrandino is a friend of mine and somebody I worked extraordinarily closely with,” Kagan said. “He is an absolutely fantastic state representative and you could not wish for better than Mark. So, if it turns out, as it likely will, that Mark represents south central Denver after the next election, you will be in wonderfully good hands. He is a tremendous representative and his heart is in the right place — he never stops.”

Ferrandino told The Colorado Statesman that he is ready to pick up constituents from Kagan’s district, pointing out that the new lines would not be a “seismic shift.”

“When it comes down to it at the end of the day, a lot of people have very similar issues in terms of the economy and education,” said Ferrandino. “Democrats in Denver, while there are some differences, they tend to have very similar ideas of what we need to do as a state.”

In addition to picking up constituents from HD 3, Ferrandino’s HD 2 would also pick up a small portion of residents from Denver’s Bonnie Brae neighborhood. HD 2 would also lose some constituents in the west side of Denver.

Ferrandino joked that his hardest decision would be choosing between the new district’s Bonnie Brae Ice Cream or Sweet Action Ice Cream near South Broadway.

“It’s really hard because I like Bonnie Brae Ice Cream, but I’ve been representing Sweet Action on Broadway near my house,” mused Ferrandino. “I think this is going to have more of an impact on my diet.”

Ferrandino, however, did not diminish the emotional impact of losing certain constituents. He likened it to losing a family member. Kagan agrees, admitting that he has significant regrets about losing the constituents he has represented since 2009.

“It has quite an emotional impact, I think, on both the constituents who are used to being represented with another neighborhood and suddenly find themselves in a completely differently shaped district,” said Kagan. “And for us, the representatives, the system for me has worked in the sense that in the 2010 election, I walked and walked and knocked on thousands and thousands of doors in the current House District 3, and it’s astonishing… it gives you a real bond with those neighborhoods you walk through and talk to so many neighbors, and I feel that I represent this area. These are my neighbors and I’m told now that I’ll no longer represent the folks who live around here… It’s like losing a part of your family.”

Other lawmakers representing Denver also spoke of the emotional toll attached to reapportionment. Senate District 35, currently represented by Democratic Sen. Joyce Foster, is facing such significant changes that Foster was forced to choose between retirement and staying in politics by potentially facing off against Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Foster chose retirement, explaining to The Statesman in July that she has had a long career in public service, having served on the Denver City Council for 10 years prior to serving in the state legislature. She said at the time that she is ready to “turn the page.”

Foster’s district would be reconfigured to pick up central Denver and part of Steadman’s district. Under the proposal, Steadman’s SD 31 would be pushed totally into Denver from Adams County.

“It is a big change… you become really attached to certain areas in your district and to constituents who have been really active and to people you feel like you know very well and you have really great relationships with,” said Steadman.

Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, who filled a vacancy left by former Sen. Chris Romer when he left the legislature to run for mayor of Denver this year, says she is grateful Foster volunteered not to seek re-election, noting that her district would have been the likely target for reconfiguration given her freshman status in the legislature. Aguilar must run in next year’s general election in order to complete the four-year term she filled. She says she also would not have faced off against Steadman. But given Foster’s announcement, Aguilar believes her seat is safe.

“As long as I don’t make you guys too angry, and so long as nobody primaries me, I’ll be in pretty good shape to continue the work I started last year,” she said.

Steadman says he is struggling with how to make the transition considering an overlap in time between when he will be representing the current SD 31 and his new district, which will be wholly within Denver County. There will come a time when Steadman will have to focus solely on Denver and less on Adams County.

“That’s something that I struggle with, I have to figure out what the balance is,” Steadman said.

While Rep. Lois Court’s HD 6 would not undergo major changes under the proposal adopted by the Reapportionment Commission, she still shares similar concerns over breaking up communities. The most significant change in HD 6 is that Glendale would become part of HD 9. Currently represented by Rep. Joe Miklosi, HD 9 will be vacant during the next election, as Miklosi has announced a bid for Congress challenging Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, in the 6th Congressional District. Court says Democrats are ready for increased competition.

“The good government person in me thinks that’s not such a bad thing to have more competition because it requires people to express opinions to their candidates and to listen to candidates and to pick the candidate without the D or the R next to their name,” Court said.

Other lawmakers who spoke at the meeting on Monday included Democratic Reps. Beth McCann and Jeanne Labuda, and Sen. Lucia Guzman.

McCann said she is pleased with changes to her HD 8, noting that she will shift into Park Hill. She will take a small portion of Rep. Angela Williams’ district, already Democratic-leaning population from HD 7.

Guzman’s Senate District 34 needs to gain about 30,000 in order to equalize the district, which is slated to expand east into Lower Downtown and north into the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. Guzman did not express concerns over the addition to her district.

Labuda said the changes to her HD 1 would be minor and she did not express concerns with the proposal.