Head of reapportionment commission angling for unanimous compromise proposal

The Colorado Statesman

The unaffiliated chairman of the state commission charged with redrawing Colorado’s legislative boundaries has introduced maps of his own that he hopes will foster a compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the reapportionment commission.

But fellow commissioners wonder if Chairman Mario Carrera will be able to break through gridlock with only one scheduled meeting remaining, noting that controversial proposals over competitive districts are still to be aired for the very first time on Sept. 19, their last scheduled get-together.

Carrera, vice president of Entravision Communications in Denver and the only unaffiliated on the 11-member Reapportionment Commission, introduced maps on Wednesday evening that he says combines components of both the Republican and Democratic proposals. The commission will ask questions and debate the proposals on Monday. The maps introduced by Carrera come after a month-long tour around the state during which commission members heard from Colorado voters on the reapportionment proposals.

State legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years following the Census to adjust for population changes. The Reapportionment Commission is charged with sending maps to the Colorado Supreme Court for review in October. Once the new maps are approved, they will take effect for the 2012 election cycle.

The process often flies under the radar — compared to congressional redistricting, which usually results in heated exchanges — but the reapportionment process can have a far-reaching impact on the balance of power in the legislature. With split chambers — Republicans control the House by only one seat and Democrats rule the Senate — reapportionment could have a significant impact on the political makeup of the Colorado General Assembly after next year’s elections.

Carrera says his proposals aim to create more competitive districts in Colorado.

“That is what the people of Colorado really deserve,” Carrera said.

Carrera’s proposal for House district lines would:

• Place Grand County with Summit and Eagle counties on the Western Slope;

• Split Mesa County and keep Gunnison County whole with the Roaring Fork Valley; thereby preventing Delta County from being split three ways;

• Keep rural Greeley and all of Morgan County together as a Hispanic-influence district; and

• Draw the Eastern Plains so that House District 65 picks up rural eastern portions of Adams and Arapahoe counties, eliminating splits with Morgan and Kit Carson counties.

Carrera’s proposal for Senate district lines would:

• Keep Democratic-leaning Manitou Springs in Senate District 11, just outside of Republican-leaning Colorado Springs;

• Draw three whole districts within Jefferson County; and

• Maintain Aurora neighborhood lines.

Carrera says his map creates a total of 33 competitive districts, including 11 competitive seats in the 35-member Senate and 22 competitive seats in the 65-member House. At least seven lawmakers would see more competitive districts under Carrera’s plan. The commission uses the 2010 treasurer’s race as a guideline for determining the political breakdown of individual districts.

Republicans facing more competitive districts under Carrera’s plan are Rep. Cindy Acree, Aurora; Rep. J. Paul Brown, Ignacio; and Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, Pueblo.

Democrats facing more competitive districts under Carrera’s plan are Rep. Sue Ryden, Aurora; Rep. Millie Hamner, Dillon; Rep. Daniel Kagan, Denver; and Rep. Dave Young, Greeley.

Lawmakers were hesitant to go on the record about the potential for more competitive districts because maps have yet to be finalized. But Acree said she is patiently waiting to see how the reapportionment process turns out.

“I can’t comment on what kind of challenges I might have until that happens,” she said. “But I really believe in the process, and I believe that those of us who have been very engaged in our communities and listening to our constituents will be served well by our constituents.”

Carrera is hopeful for bipartisan support for his maps, noting that he has been working with commissioners and reapportionment staff to draw maps that strike a balance between proposals by both Republicans and Democrats.

“I’m confident that we will reach a compromise, these are conversations that have been had since May, so with the hearings we’ve gone through, there’s been a lot of information that’s been collected, and I think we do have quite a lot to work with,” Carrera said.

But Carrera’s hope for a unanimous vote may be an unrealistic dream, explains Republican Commissioner Mario Nicolais.

Up until this month, according to Nicolais, unaffiliated Chairman Carrera had been relatively quiet about his own proposals for state legislative boundaries. He says commissioners will be discussing Carrera’s proposals for the very first time on Monday, with many suggestions never having been raised during earlier discussions.

“It’s not like we all sat down at the table and drew it out, there were a lot of things on those maps that we hadn’t seen before,” said Nicolais, questioning how Carrera’s maps can be considered a compromise. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh no, we hate this map,’ or anything like that, but one reason I can’t say a lot of things is that we haven’t seen this before.”

Nicolais went on to question why Carrera is only now voicing his own proposals for legislative reapportionment. He says because the proposals will be so fresh to commissioners, it’s not likely that they’ll be able to reach a unanimous vote.

“Mario has been very good about listening to everyone on both sides, but he’s never really been the guy who says ‘this is what I’m thinking,’ he’s more of a sponge, if you will. I guess it will be interesting for him to be out there discussing his own proposals,” Nicolais said.

Republican and Democratic proposals

Republicans and Democrats have introduced proposals of their own, following the month-long state listening tour.

The Republican proposal for House district lines would:

• Add population to House District 59 by taking from Montezuma;

• Split Delta County three ways;

• Place Grand County with Summit and Eagle counties along the Western Slope;

• Move Manitou Springs out of House District 18;

• Draw the majority of Longmont in House District 11, making it more Republican leaning;

• Split Fort Collins along a north-south border from College Avenue, making House District 53 more competitive and giving Republicans a fighting chance; and

• Keep Thornton together as a community of interest.

The Democratic proposal for House district lines would:

• Add population to House District 59 by moving into Ouray and the eastern parts of San Miguel County into Telluride;

• Split Delta County three ways, but keep Gunnison whole;

• Draw Grand County with Boulder, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, including parts of the Front Range;
• Keep Manitou Springs in HD 18; and

• Split Fort Collins along an east-west border from College Avenue, maintaining a more Democratic-leaning population.

The Republican proposal for Senate district lines would:

• Move Manitou Springs out of SD 11;

• Draw two whole districts within Boulder County;

• Draw three whole districts within Jefferson County, with the remainder drawn into Gilpin or Clear Creek counties;

• Draw four whole districts within Arapahoe County; and

• Draw three whole districts within Adams County.

The Democratic proposal for Senate district lines would:

• Draw two whole districts within Boulder County, but also draw a district going outside of Boulder;

• Draw two whole districts within Jefferson County, with a remainder drawn into Boulder County instead of Adams County;

• Draw a remainder of Denver County into Arapahoe County and Cherry Hills Village;

• Draw three whole districts within Arapahoe County, with a portion drawn into Denver County; and
• Draw three whole districts within Adams County.

Some lawmakers have already expressed concerns with the proposals, including House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, who has raised issues with her own party’s map. Under the Republican proposal, Stephens’ House District 20 would be placed with the Democratic-leaning Manitou Springs. Stephens sent an e-mail to a supporter last week, arguing that the map completely “guts” HD 20.

But when asked about it, Stephens changed her tune, pointing out that she was only alerting supporters to major changes in their district. Stephens told The Colorado Statesman that she only wants what is best for her constituents.

“It’s not up to me, I’m term limited, so I only care about what matters most for El Paso County,” she said. “At the end of the day, the commission is going to do some good work.”

But Commissioner Wellington Webb, the former mayor of Denver, is not sure how its work will turn out. He acknowledges that Carrera would like an 11-0 unanimous vote, but Webb cautioned Carrera at a reapportionment commission meeting last Monday that his dream could backfire.

“I also would join those who would like to have an 11-0 vote on these maps, but I certainly don’t think we’re there…” Webb said. “Maybe we can get to a map that gets us to an 11-0 district as opposed to have the chairman out here with a 1-5-5 vote, which he loses.”