Reapportionment Commission nears completion

The Colorado Statesman

While attention is focused this week on redrawing Congressional boundaries, and a map and bill coming from the Senate, another body is gearing up to redraw the state’s legislative districts.

This week, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his picks for the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, an 11-member body that will figure out how to divvy up the 65 House and 35 Senate seats. By law, the commission must have its preliminary plan done by Sept. 5, and submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for review by Oct. 7. The commission also is charged with holding public hearings on its plan.

Hickenlooper’s three picks bring the total to seven, with four more members to be named by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender by May 5.

Hickenlooper picked former state Rep. Gayle Berry, Republican of Grand Junction; former Denver Mayor and Democrat Wellington Webb, and Arnold Salazar, a Democrat from Alamosa.

Legislative leaders made four choices this month, with Republicans departing from tradition and picking people who are not current legislators.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, appointed former Rep. Rob Witwer of Evergreen. Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, chose Mario Nicolais of the Hackstaff law firm (formerly known as Hackstaff Gessler). Nicolais is the registered agent for a number of candidate and 527 committees, including for current Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

Among current legislators, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, chose Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora; House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, picked Rep. Matt Jones of Louisville.

In making his appointments, Hickenlooper asked that Bender make sure there is an equal balance between Democrats and Republicans, which means Bender would have to appoint an unaffiliated voter to the commission. “Neither political party should have a majority in this process and we ought to encourage consensus on the Commission,” Hickenlooper said.

According to the U.S. Census data, Colorado’s population of 5.029 million means that each House district will have approximately 77,369 residents, up from about 66,184; and each Senate seat will have about 143,685 residents, up from approximately 122,914.

Several large counties are likely to gain seats, including Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso and Weld counties; Jefferson County is likely to lose one, and Boulder County also may lose a seat. Statewide, the population grew by 16.92 percent, and large counties that meet or exceed that average are the most likely to gain seats.

Douglas County’s population shot up by more than 62 percent and nearly 110,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, according to US Census data. Weld County is up by 39 percent and almost 72,000 residents. Adams County grew by more than 77,000 residents, an increase of more than 21 percent. Arapahoe County added more than 84,000 residents, growing by more than 17 percent. And El Paso County, now the largest in the state, grew by more than 20 percent and added more than 105,000 residents.

The population of Jefferson County grew by only 1.42 percent, just under 5,000 residents; and Boulder County grew by 1.13 percent, or about 3,279 residents.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is term-limited, has pointed out that in order to meet the increase in population for his Senate District 1 seat, the district will have to add more counties. The district already includes all or portions of 12 counties along the Eastern Plains, and six of those counties saw population declines in the 2010 census, according to data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The state Constitution lays out the criteria that will be used to draw House and Senate districts. The law says each district shall be as equal in population as possible, to within no more than a 5 percent deviation between the most and least populous districts. The federal Voting Rights Act, which applies to the redrawing of congressional districts, also applies to the reapportionment process.

The districts also should be as compact in area as possible and that the perimeters of all districts be as short as possible. Counties and cities need to be kept whole unless necessary to achieve equal population and districts must keep election precincts whole. Finally, districts must preserve communities of interest, such as ethnic, cultural, economic trade, geographic and demographic factors.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com