Alternative redistricting proposal causes rift among Hispanics

The Colorado Statesman

A redistricting proposal introduced by Latino interest groups on Sept. 2 that proposes moving Pueblo and the San Luis Valley into the Republican-leaning 4th Congressional District is causing a potential rift between Hispanic voters.

Attorneys representing the Colorado Latino Forum and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association introduced their own map as interveners in a lawsuit determining how congressional boundaries will be drawn in Colorado. Regina Rodriguez, one of the lawyers representing the two groups, says the aim is to align heavily Hispanic populated Pueblo and the San Luis Valley with Hispanic communities of interest along the Eastern Plains and Greeley.

“We didn’t believe that the Republicans or the Democratic map fully captured the Hispanic communities of interest, and so we wanted to introduce our own map, which did appreciate and incorporate those communities of interest,” said Rodriguez.

Democrats and Republicans in August introduced maps as part of a lawsuit determining how congressional boundaries will be drawn in Colorado. Both parties sued the state this spring, asking the court to draw congressional boundaries after lawmakers failed to agree on a map. Congressional boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after the Census to reflect changes in population. Partisan gridlock stalled the process again this year, and a trial date has been set for October.

The Republican proposal — dubbed “Minimum Disruption.1” — makes few changes and leaves the state’s seven congressional districts pretty much the way they have looked since a judge drew the lines in response to a similar lawsuit in 2001 aimed at settling legislative gridlock during the redistricting debate a decade ago. The most significant change in the Republican map is that it would shift southeastern Colorado’s Baca County from the 4th Congressional District into the 3rd Congressional District.

Democrats, however, have proposed radical changes to the state’s congressional boundaries. The Democrats’ proposal would shift nearly all of Republican-leaning Larimer County from the 4th Congressional District into the Democratic-leaning 2nd Congressional District, including liberal Boulder County. Democrats would also like to move conservative Douglas County into the 4th CD, including Greeley and most of the Eastern Plains. Democrats have also proposed reconfiguring suburban Denver metro districts, including the 6th and 7th CDs, shifting them over to the western and eastern parts of the metro area, making the districts more competitive. Under the proposal, Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Lone Tree, would be forced to deal with his safe Republican seat in the 6th CD being up for grabs. Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, has already announced plans to move into the new 6th CD to challenge the Republican incumbent. Coffman has said that he is ready to fight, noting his military background.

Neither the proposal by Republicans nor the proposal by Democrats would alter the competiveness in the 3rd CD, including Pueblo County and the Western Slope. Rodriguez says Latino interest groups are simply aiming to align Hispanic communities of interest in those areas.

“Traditionally, Hispanic communities have been fractured in those areas, and so what we’re looking to do is to bring more of the communities of interest together so that there might be some opportunity to elect candidates of their choice who represent the interests of those communities of interest,” Rodriguez said, referring to counties in eastern Colorado.

But the move may be causing a rift between Hispanic voters who believe the Latino interveners do not represent the interests of the whole Hispanic community, especially in Pueblo. Ray Aguilera, the Hispanic president of the Pueblo City Council, is concerned that if the proposal is adopted, it will backfire for Hispanic voters who will unlikely be able to elect a representative in the Republican-leaning 4th CD. He says Hispanic voters will have a louder voice by maintaining the current boundaries in the 3rd CD. Aguilera argues that the Latino interveners represent only a small minority of Hispanic voters, and is encouraging them to drop their proposal.

“They certainly aren’t the majority, they’re a very small minority,” said Aguilera, who says he has been discussing the issue with Latino voters in Pueblo who agree that the maps proposed by the Latino interveners do not represent their desires. “I think it’s risky for them to want to do this because there’s no precedent for us to have aligned ourselves with those communities in that area.”

Aguilera calls the maps introduced by Latino interest groups a “10-year experiment” being pushed by a small group of young female Hispanic voters.

“They haven’t had any discussions with the people here, they’re doing this all on their own,” said Aguilera.

Critics of the map introduced by Latino groups say Hispanic voters have a better chance of gaining representation in the 3rd CD. Republican Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, currently holds the 3rd CD, but the district has typically shifted back and forth between a Democrat and a Republican. John Salazar, a Democrat, held the seat prior to Tipton. House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, is currently offering a spirited challenge to Tipton. But the map offered by Latino interest groups would move Pace out of the 3rd CD, potentially forcing him to choose between challenging Tipton or a more uphill battle against Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in the 4th CD. Pace says he is confident that he will be challenging Tipton.

“There’s a lot of maps out there and I can’t predict what the judge is going to do, so I’m not going to speculate on what the final lines are,” said Pace. “I think what the residents of Pueblo want, and what the residents of the 3rd CD want, are lines that keep them in a competitive seat, that’s what serves the residents of the district best.”

Pace joked that if Pueblo is joined with Denver and the 1st Congressional District, he won’t challenge the very popular Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver.

Aguilera says Hispanic voters who typically align with Democrats have a better chance in the 3rd CD, compared to the 4th CD, which has typically been held by a Republican. Republican Congressman Gardner currently holds the 4th CD. A Democrat, Betsy Markey, represented the district before Gardner, but she only won by campaigning on a fiscally conservative agenda. Prior to Markey, five different Republicans held seat. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, launched a run this summer against Gardner, but Shaffer also may be drawn out of his 4th CD into the 2nd CD, held by Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder. Shaffer has stated that he is moving forward under the assumption that he is challenging Gardner.

Rodriguez acknowledges that the maps proposed by her clients do not take into account political ramifications. But she says the aim is simply to align communities of interest, not to anticipate political outcomes.

“We did not analyze political data, what we were really trying to do was to find where the communities lie and where people seem to have interests in common,” said Rodriguez. “It wasn’t that we’re trying to make a district where a Democrat could be elected or a Republican could be elected, we’re really looking at where interests align.”

But Aguilera says Pueblo Hispanics have little in common with Greeley and the Eastern Plains, arguing that Hispanics are treated differently in Pueblo than in Greeley.

“Just in the way that Hispanic people are treated and perceived is light years of separation,” he said. “Those people in Greeley still consider everybody to be farm workers and Mexicans, and we don’t have that situation here.”

The map introduced by Latino interveners would also pair most of Denver with southern Adams County, and would create a 3rd CD that stretches from Lakewood to the Western Slope. The reconfiguration would force Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, to face off against Republican Congressman Tipton. Both Perlmutter and Tipton have declined to comment on proposals, noting that the courts will decide the issue.

For attorney Scott Martinez, who is representing Democrats in the redistricting lawsuit, the map introduced by Latino interest groups is a tough situation for him as a Latino and a member of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association. Martinez was careful not to call attention to a potential rift between Latino voters. But he did acknowledge that the proposal would make significant changes to congressional boundaries that could have widespread ramifications.

“It sure as hell isn’t ‘Minimum Disruption,’” said Martinez, referencing the Republicans’ map. “I don’t think I want to pass judgment on whether it’s good or bad. It’s not the Republican map and it’s not minimum disruption.”

Richard Westfall, the lead attorney for Republicans in their lawsuit, has serious concerns with the map introduced by Latino interest groups, arguing that no explanation is given for how the proposal would align Hispanic communities of interest. He points out that the proposal would place an estimated 1.9 million Coloradans in a new congressional district, representing about 49 percent of the state population.

“I have serious questions about what they’re trying to accomplish,” said Westfall. “They seem to do very significant damage to existing congressional lines, and based upon the numbers that we looked at… we see no explanation that would justify why these maps in some way, shape, size, or form advance Hispanic interests.”

Pueblo DA introduces his own maps

Meanwhile, Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut has introduced two maps of his own, though his proposals are much less controversial. Thiebaut, a Democrat and former lawmaker, would leave Pueblo and the San Luis Valley in the 3rd CD with the Western Slope.

One map introduced by Thiebaut would place Las Animas County in with the 4th CD; the other map would keep it in with the 3rd CD. Both his maps would place Otero County in with the 4th CD and aim to make the Republican-leaning 4th CD more competitive.

Thiebaut says he simply wants to add a Pueblo voice to the debate.

“I thought it was important to have a voice form Pueblo and southern Colorado in a case dominated by a throng of well-financed litigants from both political parties and special interest groups,” Thiebaut said in an e-mail to The Colorado Statesman. “I am just a citizen-lawyer from Pueblo who happens to be DA, but who knows the importance of sending good men and women to congress to represent the people.

“My maps present ideas for the court to consider along with the maps filed by the two major political parties and others in the case,” continued Thiebaut. “Put simply, the maps I propose bring to the table new thoughts for the judge to consider that other litigants may not be willing to bring forward. They were not drawn by sophisticated software but rather simple, inexpensive software and the maps were designed to meet the constitutional and legal criteria mandated by our courts and legislature — although they may need some touch up work.”