Lots of different ideas on redistricting in CD 5

The Colorado Statesman

Residents of the 5th Congressional District want to keep the district’s five military installations within their boundaries, and many favor shedding some of the district’s western counties so long as they can make El Paso County whole within its boundaries.

Wednesday, the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting took their road show to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. About 40 attended the evening hearing, not including the committee, their aides or legislative staff.

The Wednesday meeting was in the heart of the 5th Congressional District, which must shed 7,445 people in order to reach either the magic number of 718,457 for four of the districts, or 718,456 for the other three. Four state senators and 8 house representatives live in the district, but only Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, attended the forum.

Witnesses discussed whether to bring in all or parts of Pueblo County, split El Paso County, and whether the 5th District can be drawn in a way that makes it competitive.

Former congressional candidate and Democrat Jay Fawcett said the district as drawn now is difficult to campaign in. He also cited a National Journal interview with Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., where Lamborn referred to Democrats and fundamentalist Christians in the district as vocal minorities. “This shows a representative who writes off some in his community because he knows it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a fundamentalist. When you draw safe districts in this easy fashion and manner, you’re taking away representation and not providing it as called for in the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

Fawcett advocated for keeping the five military installations within the district. The congressional representative should sit on the Armed Forces Committee, he said, and keeping the bases in one district shows how important they are to the community.

Teller and Lake counties, on the district’s western edge, have very different interests than the urban areas of the district, Fawcett said, in response to a question from Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. When he campaigned in those counties, residents called him a “flat land water thief. Only in Colorado could you live at 6,000 feet and be called a flatlander,” he said.

Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder also advocated for moving Lake County out of the district, suggesting it would fit better with the mountain counties in the 3rd Congressional District. “Keep the Pikes Peak region as homogenous as possible,” as a population-center approach to redrawing the district. A Pikes Peak region, he said, would contain all the regional governments that surround the mountain, and would take in to consideration regional government cooperation on issues such as transportation. “Our interests are more aligned with the Front Range than with other counties” in the district, he said.

Snyder said that as a resident of El Paso County he could see keeping the county whole. But at the same time, in order to provide the best candidates for congress, he could also support a “diversity of political affiliation” within the district. In response to a question from a Republican precinct chair, Snyder said he favored keeping the “urbanized area” intact and could see losing the rural parts of El Paso County on its eastern side.

Tom Mowle, the public trustee for El Paso County, presented detailed options for every district except the 1st Congressional District. As to the 5th District, Mowle suggested moving Lake County to the 2nd District, to align it with the ski areas already part of that area. He also suggested unifying Otero County, which is split between the 3rd and 5th Districts, solely into the 3rd. Parts of Eagle County could be moved from the 2nd District to the 3rd, based on the fact that those parts of the district are inaccessible from the 2nd District in the winter; and that more of Boulder and Weld counties could be moved from the 4th District to the 2nd.

The simplest way to lose 7,445 people is to lose Lake County, he told the committee. “You can’t get from Lake to Park counties (which are in the same district) without four-wheel drive,” he said. Mowle also suggested splitting El Paso County, from Calhan to its eastern boundary, into the 4th District.

Mowle warned the committee that any map that puts Pueblo into the 5th District would end up in court. Mowle said this is based on his reading of the Voting Rights Act and court decisions that said maps could not split up Hispanic communities of interest in Pueblo, or separate them from Hispanics in the San Luis Valley. “Splitting Pueblo in half would be a very bad idea,” he said.

However the maps get drawn, several people said they really hoped the committee would accomplish that work and not leave it to the courts, and the cost that a court battle would bring. “We don’t want to get the courts involved in this; it’s money we don’t have,” said Steve Wind of Colorado Springs. Wind said he didn’t like some of Mowle’s ideas, but if the interests of Lake and Chafee counties align more with the mountains, “God bless ‘em and let’s sever them from the 5th.” He suggested that such a shift could allow the 5th District to pick up Lincoln and Crowley counties, a simple solution that cuts no counties in half. Those two counties more align with the eastern part of El Paso County, Wind said.

A Congressional hopeful for 2012 asked that the committee make all districts competitive, including the ones now considered “safe.” Dave Anderson, who has run as a Republican in the past, said he is now unaffiliated, partly because he is disillusioned with the process but also out of concerns about competitiveness. “What’s going on in Congress today could be a lot more constructive if we had representatives everywhere who were really concerned about representing all the people in the district,” he told the committee. Anderson said he also would look at regional economic development as a community of interest, which could bring in parts of Douglas County to the north or Pueblo to the south.

Another vote for shedding Teller County came from Brian Binn of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. Teller, Lake and Fremont counties, all in the 5th, align with tourism or the ski region and not with El Paso County, where the economy is based on military and manufacturing, he said. Binn also spoke up for keeping all five military installations within the 5th District. “Having one congressional representative for the installations is very valuable,” he said.

Having two congressional representatives in the vicinity would be helpful to small business, said Marguerite Terre, who works for a defense contractor. “We have to go to northern Colorado to find someone who’s more interested in small business,” she said. “It would be great if we had a second congressman a lot closer to home.”

Separate redistricting bill introduced at Legislature

Terre also asked the committee members about whether they would support House Bill 11-1276, which was introduced last Friday, and deals with judicial instructions for redistricting. Terre indicated she was concerned that the bill made county boundaries a higher priority than communities of interest. The bill “seems to be in opposition to what you’re trying to do,” she said.

None of the committee members said how they would vote on it, and committee co-chair Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, sidestepped the question by saying the bill would not affect the work of the committee. “We will not be distracted by anything happening at the Legislature,” he said. “Our job is to do such a good job that we don’t go to court,” he added. “We’re focused on what we’re doing here,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams also supported keeping El Paso County whole, and suggested the lines be drawn at Monument Hill. North of Monument is tied to the Denver market, he said; south is El Paso County. And having the five military bases together in the district makes a strong argument for having a congressional representative on the Armed Forces committee. But Williams also advocated for keeping Teller County in the district, since it shares a judicial district with El Paso County, and said that position is supported by the county commissioners of both El Paso and Teller counties.

Pete LaBarre of Teller County said he admired the efforts of the committee to be bipartisan, but the “political process is not bipartisan. There’s been gerrymandering of districts since George Washington,” he said. “We fool ourselves if we believe this is a nonpartisan event…this is politics, that’s the way it was established.”

None of the members of the redistricting committee live in the 5th District, which was noted by Williams but he didn’t complain about it. Two senators have parts of it in their senate districts: Schwartz, whose SD 5 district includes Chaffee County; and Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, whose SD 4 district includes Lake, Teller and northern El Paso counties. Scheffel’s attention to his constituents in El Paso County was noted and praised by several who attended Wednesday’s hearing. But he also took some good-natured ribbing from witnesses, who said they wanted El Paso County to be whole within the 5th District and not to include any of Douglas County, where he lives. It led Scheffel to joke that he was developing a “complex” — aligning him with committee co-chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who had been on the receiving end of similar remarks in the Loveland hearing two weeks ago. Those comments came from people who said they didn’t want Longmont to be part of the 2nd District because they didn’t want to be in the same district with Boulder, although those suggestions were based more on ideology and rural interests than geography.

The redistricting road show has just about a week to go: the committee next heads to the 3rd Congressional District for two of three scheduled meetings in that district. Saturday, the committee will be in Alamosa and Pueblo; they will then go to Castle Rock on Monday, Boulder on Tuesday and to Grand Junction for their final public forum, on March 19.

The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. on March 25. After that, the committee will work on the map and writing a bill, to be submitted to the General Assembly by April 14, with hopes that the map will be adopted by the Legislature by the session’s end on May 11. Committee members have told The Colorado Statesman that they are committed to creating a map that will get unanimous support from all 10 members.

Balmer told The Statesman that committee members would get the laptops with the special software and data necessary to draw the maps on March 10, but that they won’t start drawing maps until after the public comment period is over.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com