Casso to seek end to General Assembly redistricting

The Colorado Statesman

In the wake of the failure of the General Assembly to draw new congressional boundaries during the 2011 session, Rep. Ed Casso, D-Thornton, announced Monday he will sponsor legislation in the 2012 session to end that requirement and turn it over to an independent commission.

Last December, leaders of the House and Senate announced the formation of a joint panel, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, which would be responsible for redrawing the state’s seven congressional districts. Redistricting is required every ten years following the release of the U.S. Census and under the Colorado Constitution it is the Legislature’s responsibility to redraw those boundaries. However, since the requirement was verified in the state Constitution through a 1962 lawsuit, no Legislature has actually fulfilled that duty. The closest they came was in 1991, when then-Gov. Roy Romer vetoed the plan drawn by the General Assembly in a special session. The Legislature tried again in 1992, with the same results, and after that the court appointed a special master, who drew the map.

In a statement Monday, Casso said he was disappointed that the divided Legislature was “unwilling or unable to find common ground…We as leaders and policymakers must permanently remove the politics associated with this process; we must look at different ways to fulfill our citizens’ right to have this process done in a timely, efficient, and effective manner. Let’s work together to establish a new way of doing redistricting; one that promotes public trust, removes political gamesmanship, and allows the General Assembly to redirect its focus on doing the peoples’ work.”

Casso’s bill would seek a referred measure to the 2012 General Election ballot, and would need a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate before going onto the ballot. If approved, redistricting would be dealt with similar to how reapportionment of the state’s House and Senate seats is handled: through an appointed, independent commission.

The idea got a “wait and see” response on Tuesday from Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who told The Colorado Statesman that while he believed the process was not at fault he also thought Casso’s idea was worth looking at. “I don’t view the fact that we couldn’t draw the maps a failure of the process and I think we could have done it,” McNulty said. However, he also said he understood where Rep. Casso is coming from and “I think it’s something we should look at. We’ll see what that [bill] looks like when he puts some flesh on the bones…The legislature should be able to draw a map. I’m saddened that we couldn’t but it doesn’t mean we can’t in the future.”

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, declined to comment on Casso’s proposal, stating he had not seen it.

Both of the state party chairs weighed in on the issue this week. State GOP Chair Ryan Call said he would oppose a move to “take the authority to draw Congressional Districts following the decennial census away from our elected representatives.” Call said Tuesday that there is an “important element of accountability and responsiveness to the citizens,” basic to the republican form of government, that would be lost if the process of drawing the district lines were put into the hands of an unelected commission.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio told The Statesman that he agreed with Casso that political games had prevented a redistricting agreement, although he stopped short of fully endorsing Casso’s idea. “Republicans were hell-bent on securing four safe districts for themselves, even as people all across Colorado asked for competitive districts and responsive representatives,” Palacio said. “We need to prevent a single party from holding this process hostage in the future, and Rep. Casso’s proposal is one attempt to accomplish that. I hope this issue receives serious attention in the 2012 legislative session.”

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com