Reapportionment fallout hits home

The Colorado Statesman

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday approved Democratic-sponsored legislative maps that Republicans blasted as “vindictive” for drawing so many GOP incumbents into the same districts. Democrats countered that they were forced to propose the maps after Republicans challenged an earlier set of bipartisan plans that didn’t pit incumbents against each other but that the court said divided too many counties.

Just a day after the court announced the new maps would stand, two Republican lawmakers said they won’t seek reelection and others on both sides of the aisle began jostling for position on unfamiliar terrain.

Regardless of how next year’s elections turn out, the new maps will contribute to unprecedented turnover among lawmakers. Including the effects of term limits and those who aren’t seeking reelection, next year’s ballot will see at least 21 open seats in the House and eight open seats in the Senate, adding up to almost a third of the 100 members of the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, told The Colorado Statesman he won’t run for another term next year after being drawn into the same district as Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. State Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, said he won’t run for reelection in a reconfigured district that will be dominated by Democrats.

But Republicans could see some fierce primary battles between incumbent lawmakers. Also on Tuesday, state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, told The Statesman she intends to run hard for her El Paso County seat despite sharing it under the new maps with House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

“I look forward to a vigorous reelection campaign in the upcoming months,” Looper said, noting that Stephens has already drawn a primary challenge in retired Air Force Major General Gar Graham.

Denouncing Democrats for “[creating] a new gold standard of gerrymandering for the next ten years,” Stephens told supporters that wasn’t going to dissuade her from running for another term.

In Lakewood, three incumbents — Democratic state Reps. Max Tyler and Andy Kerr, along with Republican state Rep. Ken Summers — wound up in the same district, though only Tyler had committed to running for the seat by press time. (All three also reside within the boundaries of an open Senate seat.)

“I will be assessing my options with my family and personal advisors and hope to make a decision by Friday,” Summers told The Statesman in an email.

The maps approved by the court this week also pair two other sets of House GOP incumbents in the same districts: in Loveland, it’s Majority Whip B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and state Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland; and in the northeast corner of the state, it’s state Reps. Jon Becker, R-Yuma, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. Sonnenberg told The Statesman he and Becker were still deciding their future course on Wednesday. By press time, the other hadn’t return requests for comment.

It’s the second time legislative maps have been before the high court in recent months. The court rejected the first set of proposals forwarded by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, an 11-member panel appointed by legislative leaders, the governor and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. While the initial maps were approved on bipartisan votes by the commission, the final submissions were adopted without the support of any of the body’s five Republicans.

Republican reaction to the ruling was swift and furious.

“It is disappointing to see the Supreme Court validate such blatantly partisan and politically vindictive maps,” said Cadman in a statement. “It is clear that the reapportionment process in Colorado is broken and in need of reform. I am now considering sponsoring a bill for the 2012 session to address this problem.”

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call also criticized the ruling.

“I am incredibly disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to ignore countless hours of public testimony and rubber-stamp the Democrats’ highly partisan maps,” he said in a statement. “The reapportionment process is clearly broken; it allowed the Democrats to game the system using heavy handed tactics to run out the clock at the expense of the citizens of Colorado.”

If Republicans don’t like the outcome, they have only themselves to blame, said reapportionment commissioner Wellington Webb, a Denver Democrat and the city’s former mayor. He rejected Republican complaints and said a pair of overzealous GOP commissioners landed the party in a predicament of its own making.

“It’s like playing a game, and then all of a sudden, you’re winning the game but it goes into overtime, and then you’re losing the game, and all of a sudden the rules aren’t fair, this is vindictive, it isn’t politically appropriate. Ray Charles can see through that disguise,” Webb told The Statesman.

Webb said GOP commissioners Mario Nicolais and Steve Tool made a mistake railing against a plan that had won bipartisan approval in September. On the last day of the commission’s first round, Nicolais vowed to appeal the initial set of maps drawn by the panel’s chairman and lone unaffiliated member Mario Carrera, despite those maps leaving every GOP incumbent alone in his or her own district. (In the first set of maps, one pair of Democrats were drawn into the same districts in both the House and the Senate, but Republicans remained by themselves.)

Webb also dismissed Republican charges that Democrats had somehow gamed commission deadlines, pointing out that both parties turned in maps on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a day before the panel convened to consider submissions.

“That doesn’t hold water,” Webb said. “They’re looking for a way to save face given the fact they had a silver-plated map the first go around, and now they end up with something that, from a partisan point of view, is less good for them than what they had previously, rather than just own up to the fact they should have took the first map.”

He went on to defend Carrera as “an honest broker” who was under continual assault from Republicans and conservative blogs every time he appeared to side with Democrats, even though he was the one who brought both sides together on the maps first approved by the commission. “They kept assaulting him and they just pushed him over the edge,” Webb said with a chuckle. “They did one cute blog too many.”

The Republican reaction wasn’t entirely one of disappointment. Call sounded a note of optimism in his assessment:

“Despite the flawed district maps, I am confident that with our winning message of economic growth and job creation, Republicans will expand our majority in the House and take back the Senate.”

Call’s counterpart, state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio, expressed the same confidence his party would prevail under the new maps.

“Today’s ruling guarantees Colorado voters competitive districts that pressure legislators to look beyond their political bases,” he said in a statement. “These new districts will favor representatives who are accountable and responsive, and Democrats will field candidates who fit this profile. With a Legislature committed to working to benefit all Coloradans, I am confident we will make great progress as a state in the decade to come.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com