Redistricting co-chair Balmer insists Dems were never really serious about passing bill

The Colorado Statesman

Rep. David Balmer, the Republican co-chair of the joint legislative committee tasked with redrawing Colorado’s seven congressional districts, says a proposal made earlier by Democrats would do “great violence” to conservative communities of interest in the state.

Balmer, R-Centennial, told the Colorado Republican Business Coalition on July 15 that Democrats were to blame for having introduced a map that splits the Western Slope, and he accused them of outright gerrymandering. Further, Balmer contended that Democrats “were not serious about passing a bill through the legislature, they were simply wanting to go to the courts all along.”

State Rep. David Balmer

It was certainly not an unexpected characterization considering that the legislature was unable to come up with a consensus map in May and charges of political manipulation and deception were thrown around by both parties. Republicans and Democrats subsequently filed suit. The issue will be decided by Denver District Court in October.

Balmer’s remarks were a far cry from the optimistic statements he made in conjunction with both party’s legislative leadership at the beginning of the session when it seemed that partisans from both sides of the aisle were intent on working together to draw new boundaries for the state’s congressional districts. The biennial remapping is traditionally done after results from the latest Census reveal population figures from across the country. Even though Colorado’s population grew, the number of representatives in Congress will remain at seven. But shifts in the state’s population centers necessitated redrawing the districts so that they are all closer in size. In addition, court decisions over the years have mandated that other considerations be taken into account, such as competitiveness, minority representation, and communities of interest.

The whole process is generally steeped in politics, made even more so this year because Republicans control the house while Democrats managed to retain control of the state senate. This shared power structure meant that some kind of compromise map would be needed to muster passage by each chamber. In the last two congressional redistricting proceedings, the matter ended up in the courts when the legislature couldn’t come up with an acceptable plan to divvy up the state’s congressional districts. During this past session, tempers often flared amid accusations that each party was purposefully reconfiguring boundary lines to protect or enhance the political status of one of their own.

At one point early in the session, Balmer was banned from the Senate floor after losing his temper when discussing the scheduling of a commission hearing with Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

But on Friday, Balmer was surrounded by an audience of friendly Republicans who shared his belief that the Democrats tried to draw congressional boundaries to give Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, a competitive advantage in the 4th Congressional District. Shaffer, to practically no one’s surprise, recently announced his intentions to run against Republican incumbent Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in 2012.

Republicans wanted the Eastern Plains to remain in the new district, noting the importance of keeping the agricultural community intact. They were upset with the Democrats’ proposed map that they claim favored Shaffer by lumping the more urban — and Democratic — parts of the district together.

Balmer pointed out that by taking away a Republican portion of Larimer County and placing it in the 2nd CD, Democrats were attempting to bolster the Democratic part of Larimer County for Shaffer’s congressional challenge. The Democrats’ proposal would have placed more of Democratic-leaning Boulder County into the 4th District, also to the benefit of Shaffer and the Democrats.

Shaffer told The Colorado Statesman this week that he didn’t have much to say about the issue since it is now in the court’s hands.

Balmer also referenced House Democratic Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, who is running to replace Republican Congressman Scott Tipton in the 3rd Congressional District. He said Pace would actually benefit more from a Republican redistricting proposal.

“There are states all over the country where the legislature is controlled by two different parties where they have managed to draw maps in the legislative process,” said Balmer. “It’s just that in this year, we have two powerful Democrats in the (Colorado) legislature both running for Congress.”

Pace this week refuted Balmer’s contention that he would stand to benefit from a Republican redistricting proposal, calling it “patently untrue” and arguing that both the Republican and Democratic proposals make for a competitive 3rd District. Republican Congressman Tipton defeated Democratic incumbent John Salazar last year, maintaining a trend of the district wavering back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the years.

“The final map that the Democrats had and the final map that the Republicans had were very similar for the 3rd Congressional District,” Pace told The Statesman. “There were different maps that were introduced along in the process, but the final maps for each party had the 3rd CD very similar to each other.”
Pace, like Shaffer, was reluctant to comment specifically on the redistricting proposals, noting that the courts must decide the issue.

“It’s really in the court’s hands,” said Pace. “I just have to go ahead and do my job campaigning and we’ll see what the final lines look like.”

Western Slope remains contentious

Competitiveness in the Western Slope is another issue in the redistricting debate. Balmer argues that Republicans introduced a map that keeps the 3rd CD primarily as a Western Slope district. Only the San Luis Valley, the Aspen area of Pitkin County, and Pueblo lean Democratic, according to Balmer. The rest of the district is Republican. Balmer said Democrats are attempting to “do great violence to the concept of a Western Slope district.”

Republicans also have jeered at the Democratic proposal to split the Western Slope in half, thereby placing Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat who represents mostly liberal Boulder in CD 2, in with conservative Grand Junction and many counties along the Western Slope. The cultural differences between Boulder and the Western Slope are immense and the two communities truly do not belong in one district, critics say.

“They did not want to be represented by someone from Boulder,” Balmer told members of the Colorado Republican Business Coalition, all whom seemed to enjoy the irony of the proposed scenario.

Balmer added that unlike Democrats, Republicans listened to what the counties wanted, such as putting Otero County wholly within the 4th CD. It is currently split between the 3rd District and 4th Districts.

He also pointed out that Republicans kept Lake County inside the 5th District, but moved Chaffee County to the 3rd CD.

Republicans have expressed some of their greatest concerns over the Democratic redistricting proposals in the 5th District. Balmer said Democrats would like to take the heavily Republican populated Colorado Springs portion of the 5th District out and put it with Teller and Douglas counties. Parker, Lone Tree and east Douglas County would be in the 3rd CD, explained Balmer, meaning that intensely conservative portions of the state would be less than 20 miles from the liberal Denver metro region.

“That’s the insanity of their map,” Balmer charged.

Meanwhile, Republicans say they tried to keep the 6th Congressional District intact, with the most significant change being with a boundary between the 6th and 7th districts in Aurora south to Quincy Road.

“We feel this is a densely populated area of Aurora that is similar both on the north and south side of the boundary, so that’s why we decided to make the change there,” said Balmer, arguing that Republican Congressman Mike Coffman’s district remains similar as a result of the strategy.

But under the Democrats’ proposal, Balmer said Coffman would not have a chance of reelection, and doubts whether he would even run. The entire 6th CD under the Democrats’ proposal, Balmer said, is designed only with the intention of electing a Democrat.

“It is not a district that any Republican could win,” said Balmer. “Ronald Reagan could not win the 6th CD under this Democrat map. Jesus Christ could not win the 6th CD under this Democrat map.”

Democrats have less to worry about in the 1st Congressional District, where Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette enjoys widespread support. Republicans have attempted to shift the 1st District slightly by extending it 12 blocks west to Wadsworth and placing part of Lakewood in it. That would bolster the 56,000-population deficit in district requirements, according to Balmer. The shift would do little to diminish the Democratic Party in the district.

“It does not change the fact that the 1st is still a very heavily Democratic district, but it also fixes some problems that we had with the 7th,” he added.

Republicans also attempted to make the 7th Congressional District more competitive by equally dividing the population among three metro counties, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe. Adams would remain in the 7th, as would the communities of Lakewood, Golden and Applewood. But by dividing populations more evenly, Balmer says Republicans stand a better chance of winning the district that is currently held by Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter.

“When Congressman Perlmutter moves on, the 7th Congressional District under our map could be easily represented by someone from Adams County, JeffCo or Aurora,” said Balmer.

And in the 2nd Congressional District, Balmer says Republicans left the district similar to its current configuration, other than removing southwestern Eagle County and putting it with the 3rd CD.

The redistricting commission held hearings around the state during the legislative session to garner output from residents in all seven districts.