Reapportionment Commission's maps make both parties apoplectic

Special to The Colorado Statesman

Democrats walked away from a Reapportionment Commission meeting at the Capitol on Monday outraged over a proposal that would give more power to Republicans and drastically alter the legislative landscape of Aurora and Arapahoe County. Republicans, meanwhile, expressed frustrations over a proposed Senate map that they believe favors Democrats in the traditionally Democratic Denver area.

The 11-member bipartisan Reapportionment Commission adopted a Republican-backed map for the metro area by a party-line vote of 6-5 that would change the majority of House districts in Arapahoe County. Especially affected would be House Districts 36, 41 and 42 in Aurora — where significant African American communities of interest exist.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, was livid over the idea of splitting up Arapahoe County, and ventured that her constituents will likewise be upset. She said the proposed map “does serious violence to neighborhoods of communities of interest,” adding that, “They’re going to wonder who was smoking what when they passed this map.”

“Every single district in Aurora is being radically changed,” Sen. carroll complained during the hearing. “Aurora doesn’t even come close to the four districts it is entitled to… It reflects no historical Aurora; it reflects no HOAs; it reflects no communities of interest… The alternative is really going to be devastating to the third-largest city and the people who live there.”

The map adopted by the Commission — with the deciding vote coming from unaffiliated member Mario Carrera — would also move House District 30 in Adams County, encompassing Aurora and Brighton, into a Democratic-leaning portion of Arapahoe County. Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, who currently represents HD 30, would be placed in a new House District 22, and would be the only incumbent in that district. The new HD 30 would not have an incumbent.

The proposal also draws a district wholly inside Arapahoe County for Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, who currently represents House District 3, including portions of Arapahoe and Denver counties. The goal there was to avoid placing any incumbents against each other in a Denver House district.

Longmont would stay mainly intact under the Republican proposal, no longer sharing a House district with neighboring Boulder. But the city is still currently too large to have its own district, so part of it would be placed with Lafayette and Louisville in House District 12, held by Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a member of the Reapportionment Commission.

On Monday, Jones expressed some concern over the Republican-backed proposal, noting that it takes a “great big alligator bite” out of the heart of Longmont, including a significant portion of Old Town. He joined Democrats in opposing the Republican-backed map.

The maps are only considered preliminary. The Commission is expected to release official maps in August and then send the drafts for review by the Colorado Supreme Court in October. Once the new maps are approved they will take effect for the 2012 election cycle.

Republican Commissioner Mario Nicolais, who introduced the GOP-backed House district map for the metro region, does not believe it makes drastic changes. Nicolais says the map maintains communities of interest, even creating an extra majority-minority district in the Denver-Arapahoe county area in addition to maintaining two existent Hispanic majority seats. Nicolais notes that his proposal for Denver County nearly mirrors one suggested by Democrats, therefore making it a compromise.

“I do not want in any way to eliminate any group’s influence or their ability to be represented…” said Nicolais. “It was more of a question of what priorities are we putting there.”

Commissioner Wellington Webb, a former mayor of Denver, berated Nicolais for trying to move black lawmaker Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, out of House District 42. There are only two black lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, Fields and Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver. Webb, who is also black, suggested that Nicolais was attempting to get rid of black representation at the Capitol.

“His desire is to eliminate any African American representation in the Colorado legislature,” Webb said bluntly.

But Nicolais, in an attempt to compromise with Webb and Democrats, revised his map to keep Fields in HD 42. Denver House districts remain mostly intact under the Republican compromise.

Still, Democrats criticized Nicolais for proposing changes to Arapahoe County which would turn House District 36 in Aurora, which is currently rectangular-shaped, into a much longer, thinner district, much to the consternation of Sen. Carroll and Democrats. Sen. Carroll says Nicolais is not taking the historical context of Aurora into account.

“The only way you can say that is if you have zero knowledge of Aurora and Arapahoe County,” Carroll said following the vote.

“Every incumbent was pulled out of their district,” she continued, noting proposals that had affected Fields, as well as Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora. “We have compact districts turned into ginormous districts; we took traditional lines… and just made wiggle lines all over the place, completely random wiggle lines which have nothing to do with those communities; it puts totally different parts of Aurora together; it divides neighborhoods and communities of interest; the geography is different, the size is different — it just doesn’t make sense.”

Shifting incumbents also became a focal point of the debate on Monday, especially in Lakewood where Republican Rep. Ken Summers would be moved out of House District 22 into House District 26, currently represented by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

Kerr told The Statesman that despite what he views as a clear advantage to Republicans, he is ready to put up a fight.

“At the end of the day we’ll just go out and talk to constituents and ask them to vote for us based on our voting histories, and we’ll see how it works out,” said Kerr.

He said his campaign has already had to shift course and now had to “desperately” figure out the new map to determine whether certain precincts, in which he planned to campaign, would still be in his district. It turned out that they wouldn’t.

Summers acknowledges that campaigning will become much more difficult for both him and Kerr, despite both incumbents having only one more term in the legislature.

“Obviously it means it’s going to be a much more heated and contested race for two incumbents who probably would have had a much easier time coming up in 2012,” said Summers.

Dems win on Senate map

Incumbency also became one of the major issues facing the reapportionment process in the state Senate, with at least one state senator saying she will not run for re-election assuming the new map becomes reality. The Commission adopted a Democratic-backed map for Denver on a party-line vote of 6-5. Unaffiliated Commissioner Carrera was the deciding vote.

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who currently represents portions of both Denver and Adams County in Senate District 31, would be pushed totally into Denver, causing him to potentially face off against fellow Democratic Sen. Joyce Foster, who currently represents Senate District 35. Foster said she simply would not run for re-election if it means challenging Steadman.

“I’ve had 10 years on the Denver City Council and I will have had four years by the time I’m finished as a state senator, and I’m very proud of my record,” Foster told The Statesman on Wednesday. “I’ve accomplished a lot of very important things during my public service and so maybe it’s time to turn the page.”

Steadman said he likes the Democratic-backed proposal because it means his Adams County constituents will have their own voice in the legislature.

“I’m happy to see that my Adams County constituents are really going to get a voice, not that they didn’t have one, but one that’s wholly Adams County,” Steadman said following the vote. “I think they’ll be happy, and I’m happy for them.”

The Reapportionment Commission is tasked every 10 years, following the Census, with redrawing legislative district lines in order to conform to changing populations. The goal is to keep districts uniform in size to reflect “one person, one vote.” House districts will ideally have a population of 77,372, and Senate districts will ideals have a population of 143,691 residents.

Republicans focused heavily on a Colorado Supreme Court ruling during the reapportionment debate a decade ago, in which Justice Gregory Hobbs mandated that counties retain whole districts. But because of population changes across the state and a mandate to keep counties whole, Denver County is actually losing one Senate seat.

Under the Hobbs decision, Denver should only have four Senate districts after the reapportionment process, plus a remainder left over from other districts. Because of this mandate, any extra portion of Denver is required to go into Jefferson County. To complicate matters, Jefferson County is required to have three whole districts, so the remainder of Denver and Jefferson counties must go somewhere else. The result is that the remaining portions of Denver and Jefferson counties would have to be combined with smaller counties, such as Gilpin and Clear Creek, which do not have much in common with either Denver or Jefferson county.

Some Democrats, however, have argued that the Hobbs decision is not necessarily a mandate, but should instead be treated as guidance because it does not always make sense in current debate. Commissioner Webb took the opportunity to take a jab at Republican Commissioners Nicolais and Rob Witwer, suggesting that they are both lawyers with aspirations of becoming judges one day.

“I think they know from law school that constitutional requirements are not absolute; I think they know that the court has changed…” said Webb. “The Supreme Court… they rule whether it is constitutional or not, but they haven’t ruled on a map we submitted yet.”

Because the Democrats’ proposal does not rely solely on the Hobbs decision, a portion of Senate District 26, represented by Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, is in Denver.

The Senate debate has been less contentious in the metro area because Democrats already hold many of the seats in the districts, including Senate Districts 26, 28 and 29 in Arapahoe County, and a Republican represents Senate District 27. Senate Districts 24 and 25 in Adams County as approved by the commission would be very competitive districts.

But Republicans still raised concerns, noting that Democrats have drawn every Senate district map during the reapportionment process. Republicans claim Jefferson County is entitled to three districts, but Democrats only drew two whole districts in Jefferson County because Senate District 19, held by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, extends into Adams County. Republicans are also arguing that there are only three districts within Arapahoe County, when the mandate is that there be four whole districts.

“These lines do not represent the will of Colorado’s voters at all. They represent the interests of a single political party,” charged Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, in a statement on Tuesday. “That’s not what the commission is supposed to be about. They got the gold mine, and the voters of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, in particular, got the shaft.”

Following the vote, Commissioner Nicolais questioned whether the Colorado Supreme Court would even uphold the Democratic-backed Senate map.

“We have very clear criteria,” he said. “If I’m wrong, the Supreme Court will tell me I’m wrong, but I will say that I cannot support any map that is drawn this way.”