Final arguments heard in redistricting case

The Colorado Statesman

A trial in Denver District Court to determine Colorado’s seven congressional boundaries came to a close Monday afternoon with the introduction of new maps that seek to keep the city of Aurora intact.

Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert Hyatt asked all parties to introduce new maps after hearing testimony during the 10-day court proceeding. Attorneys representing Republicans, Democrats and Latino interveners introduced their new maps by the 5 p.m. deadline on Tuesday with few changes from original proposals, aside from drawing Aurora into one whole district.

The major difference between the new Republican and Democratic proposals is that Republicans have proposed keeping all of Aurora in Congressional District 7, currently represented by Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden. The Democratic proposal would place voters from Aurora and parts of Douglas County, including Highlands Ranch, into Congressional District 6, represented by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora.

Attorneys for both parties were reluctant to comment on the proposals as the judge gets set to weigh all arguments. But following closing arguments on Monday, Republican attorney Richard Westfall told The Colorado Statesman that the new maps were only introduced because Hyatt had requested them.

Congressional boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after the Census to reflect changes in population. Both parties sued the state this spring, asking the court to draw congressional boundaries after lawmakers failed to agree on a map. Lawmakers attempted to reach a compromise through a special bipartisan legislative committee, but partisan gridlock stalled the process again this year, as it has in years past. Democrats and Republicans in August introduced separate maps as part of the lawsuit determining redistricting.

The Republican proposal — dubbed “Minimum Disruption” — makes few changes and leaves the state’s seven congressional districts pretty much the way they have been since a judge drew the lines in response to a similar lawsuit in 2001. Republicans would like to shift southeastern Colorado’s Baca County from the 4th Congressional District into the 3rd.

Democrats, however, have proposed radical changes that have Republicans concerned about losing strongholds in typically conservative parts of the state, especially when Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents in three districts. Senate President Brandon Shaffer is challenging freshman Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in CD 4. Gardner took the seat last fall from one-term Democrat Betsy Markey. Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, is challenging Coffman in CD 6. And House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, is challenging Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in CD 3. Tipton defeated Democrat John Salazar, who now serves as the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

Perhaps most alarming to Republicans is the Democratic proposal that would shift nearly all of Republican-leaning Larimer County from the 4th Congressional District — held by Gardner — into the Democratic-leaning 2nd Congressional District, including liberal Boulder County — currently represented by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder. Democrats have also proposed moving conservative Douglas County into the 4th CD, including Greeley and most of the Eastern Plains. Suburban metro Denver districts, including Douglas County, would also shift over to the western and eastern parts of the metro area, making the districts more competitive under the Democrats’ proposal. Under that scenario, Coffman would likely face a spirited challenge.

Attorney Mark Grueskin, who is representing Democrats, argued during closing remarks on Monday that the state’s population is changing, so the Republican proposal to maintain the status quo is not an option.

“If you ignore what’s going on in Colorado, how in the world can you set up congressional districts that are meaningful?” asked Grueskin during his remarks.

Playing to the interests of the judge, Grueskin acknowledged that the judge has an extremely difficult task in the days ahead to determine congressional boundaries for the state.

“The legislature has said to you, ‘Here are some factors to consider, maybe you can consider some more, good luck,’” quipped Grueskin.

Judge Hyatt belted right back, “Actually, they didn’t say good luck.”

Democrats have raised several issues of interest that they believe qualifies their proposals for shifting the conservative strongholds of Douglas and Larimer counties. They have argued, for instance, that bark beetle infestation, education, and agricultural interests are germane to both counties. They note rural agricultural interests in Douglas County similar to those along the Eastern Plains in CD 4, just as the university systems of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins link Boulder and Larimer counties. Attorneys representing Democrats say pine beetle infestation and water rights in the two communities are also of common interest for CD 2 and CD 4, including Boulder and Larimer counties.

But Republicans believe that Democrats are only highlighting “issues of the day,” which they say are not worthy of a decade-long congressional boundary shift. Westfall said Republicans are attempting to keep “permanent communities” whole. He specifically highlighted the communities in Larimer and Weld counties.

“They’re not entwined because of some issue of the day… they’re joined because they’re physically connected to one another,” Westfall told the court.

The new map introduced by Republicans on Monday would also increase Hispanic populations in north Adams County. While Westfall acknowledges that the new map goes beyond “minimum disruption,” he says it still maintains many of the state’s current boundaries, while adhering to Judge Hyatt’s request to keep Aurora whole.

“It goes beyond pure minimum disruption because we move a few more people, but we move them for a reason,” said Westfall.

Latino interveners — including the Colorado Latino Forum and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association — introduced new maps as well, though attorney Regina Rodriguez says they make very few changes. In fact, their revised maps still keep Aurora together, but allow Coffman and Perlmutter to stay in their respective districts. Latino interveners have tried to avoid some other city splits in Bennett, Commerce City, Federal Heights, Golden, Lakewood, Littleton, Strasburg and Watkins.

Latinos have proposed significant changes to CD 3, which includes Pueblo County and the Western Slope and is currently represented by Republican Tipton. Their proposal calls for aligning heavily Hispanic populated Pueblo and the San Luis Valley with Hispanic communities of interest along the Eastern Plains and Greeley. They say their aim is to expand Hispanic communities of interest, not to further the agendas of a particular political party.

Attorney Rodriguez offered a fiery argument on Monday during her closing remarks, employing a civil rights stand for the Latino community.

“It is not enough, and we are not satisfied; it is simply not fair, it’s not just and it’s not right to continue to marginalize and fracture the Hispanic communities of interest in the state for the system of the status quo,” she said.

She added that Latino interveners do not object to drawing Aurora whole, but argued for boundaries that add a voice to the state’s growing Hispanic communities.

“The reason that we’re here is that this isn’t at this point supposed to be political… we’re here today because the people who are supposed to speak for us are not,” she said.

Hyatt is also considering a proposal from Pueblo District Attorney and former lawmaker Bill Thiebaut, who has introduced two maps. Thiebaut proposes leaving Pueblo and the San Luis Valley in the 3rd CD along with the Western Slope. His maps would simply place Otero County in with the 4th CD in order to make the Republican-leaning 4th CD more competitive.

The judge can also consider arguments from attorneys representing Douglas County and Aurora, which already scored a major victory when the judge called for new maps keeping the Denver suburb intact. Attorney Hubert Faber, representing Aurora, made a final argument Monday for keeping the county together.

“The people of Aurora view themselves as Aurorans, they see themselves as people who are residents of the City of Aurora, not, god forbid, Douglas County,” Faber quipped.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com