Residents in CD 3 urge redistricting panel to make the Western Slope whole again

The Colorado Statesman

GRAND JUNCTION — Many of the 37 witnesses who offered testimony Saturday to the final field hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Redistricting had lots of suggestions of which counties to add to the 3rd Congressional District, but few ideas of which should be removed.

The 3rd District, which sprawls from Las Animas County in southeastern Colorado to Moffat County in the northwest, incorporates Pueblo, the San Luis Valley and every Western Slope county except Eagle, Grand and Summit.

To reach the 718,457 people required for each of the state’s seven congressional districts, the 3rd need only gain 12,271 in population. The 4th needs to lose 6,462 and the 5th needs to shed 7,445. Those likely will be the easy ones. The 2nd needs to lose 15,557 people and the 6th must say goodbye to a whopping 79,025. Meanwhile, the 1st needs to gain 56,333 and the 7th must find another 39,888.

Since 1981, when the bulk of the Western Slope was again placed in one district, the 3rd has been the most competitive district in the state. Democratic Rep. Ray Kogovsek of Pueblo was succeeded in 1984 by Republican Mike Strang of Carbondale, who was defeated in 1986 by Democrat Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Ignacio.

Campbell was followed in 1992 by Republican Scott McInnis of Glenwood Springs, who was succeeded in 2004 by John Salazar of Manassas, who was defeated in 2010 by Republican Scott Tipton of Cortez.

Republicans who testified Saturday at the hearing in Mesa State College’s brand-new College Center made it clear they’d like the Western Slope to be made whole again by adding Eagle, Grand and Summit counties. The populations for those three counties total 115,034, and they were moved from the 3rd to the 2nd after the census 10 years ago.

Led by McInnis, now of Grand Junction, they said the 20 Western Slope counties share water, ski resorts, public lands and energy as “communities of interest.”

But McInnis was pressed by state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who noted there were “lots of contenders who want to be in the 3rd. Who do you take out?”

McInnis suggested Otero and Las Animas counties (total population 34,338) should be placed in the 4th CD on the Eastern Plains, but he didn’t offer any other candidates for expulsion from the 3rd.

Delta County Republican Chairman Don Suppes, however, said there was “no reason Pueblo should be in the 3rd CD if you’re considering communities of interest. They are an urban-type community with significant voting differences.”

Democrats, meanwhile, generally favored keeping Eagle, Summit and Grand in the 2nd CD, and some suggested adding the northwestern counties of Jackson, Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco.

Eagle County Democratic chairman Michael Tucker said his county has communities of interest in recreation and environmental issues, and doesn’t want to be split.

Anita Sherman of Glenwood Springs urged keeping Eagle, Summit and Grand in the 2nd, and said Routt should be added, “because we have ski resorts and we’re actually small metro areas with the services we must provide. We are not farming and ranching any more. And we have real estate more equivalent to Boulder than to Pueblo or Grand Junction.”

But few Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, suggested which counties should be moved out of the 3rd in order to bring in the northwestern counties.

Roland Reynolds of Grand Junction said Colorado has three regions, “the Eastern Plains, the mountains, and the people who moved to the cities to get our water before the farmers do.”

Consequently, he said, Grand Junction should be lined up with the mountains, people from the foothills of Jefferson and Pueblo counties should be included, as should Jackson County.

Dave Merritt, a water engineer from Glenwood Springs, was among several speakers to ask the committee to keep watersheds in mind as they draw their maps.

“Water is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It is a vital community of interest.”

Dee Jacobson of Delta County, who was a district aide to both Kogovsek and Campbell, said the 3rd District’s “diversity makes it difficult to represent, but it makes it resilient. One of the hardest parts is getting the congressman from point A to point B, and I don’t see that changing. With some places, you can’t get there from here.

“It’s not just I-70 (that’s a community of interest), it’s U.S. 50 that connects Grand Junction to Montrose, to Gunnison, to Salida and to Pueblo, so please look at that,” Jacobson urged.

After Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, the joint committee’s co-chair, pleaded for speakers to be specific and to not repeat previous testimony, Delta County Democratic chairman Rick Stelter urged keeping the 3rd largely as it is, and he suggested including Chaffee (population 17,809), and either Lake (7,310) or Crowley (5,823) for the 3rd CD to gain the necessary population.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who co-chairs the joint committee with Balmer, said the group intends to submit its proposed map by April 14, with final passage by May 11.

Ellen@coloradostatesman.com