Compromise reached on reapportionment

Now Colorado Supreme Court must review the maps
The Colorado Statesman

“Super Mario” Carrera, the unaffiliated chairman of the state commission charged with redrawing legislative boundaries, came close to a unanimous vote for his so-called “compromise” maps for both the House and Senate, pushing the proposals through the Reapportionment Commission on Monday, the last day it was scheduled to meet.

The vote was 9-2 on the Senate map and 8-3 on the House map he proposed for the 11-member bipartisan Reapportionment Commission. The only opposition came from Republicans concerned that the maps violate constitutional criteria outlined by the Colorado Supreme Court during reapportionment of a decade ago. Republicans have also raised concerns about thrusting incumbents together, creating overly competitive or non-competitive races for lawmakers facing re-election. Reapportionment Commission members Steve Tool and Mario Nicolais, both Republicans, opposed the Senate map. Republicans Rob Witwer, Nicolais and Tool opposed the maps that divided up the House.

Legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years following the Census to adjust for population changes. The Reapportionment Commission is charged with sending maps to the Colorado Supreme Court for review. Now that the commission has adopted final proposals for both the House and Senate, the next step is to file the final plans with the Supreme Court by Oct. 7. The Supreme Court could accept the maps or ask the commission to go back and draft new ones.

Carrera, nicknamed “Super Mario” because of his dedication to striking a balance between Republicans and Democrats and his powerful swing vote as the one unaffiliated member on the commission, introduced maps that he says takes from both Republican and Democratic proposals. Reapportionment can often be a divisive process as the redrawing of legislative boundaries can determine the balance of power at the legislature for a full decade. With split chambers — Republicans control the House by only one seat and Democrats rule the Senate — reapportionment could have a significant impact on the political makeup of the state after next year’s elections.

But Carrera, vice president of Denver-based Spanish-language TV Entravision Communications, went into the process with the aim of creating competitive districts and pulling proposals from both sides of the political spectrum. He says his maps create 33 competitive districts out of the 100 districts in Colorado. Twenty-two of the districts are in the House and 11 are in the Senate.

“Competition should be an idea that both Democrats and Republicans should embrace…” Carrera said. “Both Democrats and Republicans will have to work hard for a majority in both chambers. And hard work is something that I know both political parties can embrace when they are the best versions of themselves.”

Republicans, however, have raised concerns about political ramifications in placing incumbents together, forcing overly competitive or non-competitive districts for lawmakers facing re-election. At the centerpiece of the debate are Reps. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, and Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. Summers would be moved out of House District 22 into House District 26 under Carrera’s plan. Kerr currently represents HD 26. Kerr would be given about an eight-point Democratic advantage in the district.

While lawmakers have been hesitant to discuss political and campaign outcomes until the Supreme Court has finalized the reapportionment process, both Summers and Kerr told The Colorado Statesman in July that they are ready to put up the 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,” Kerr told The Statesman at the time.

Summers acknowledged that the election would be more difficult, assuming the proposal is adopted.

“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,” Summers said.

Carrera, however, says the incumbents who are affected are merely the result of population changes and constitutional guidelines for redrawing legislative boundaries. He says when he first started the process, he was not even privy to the names of lawmakers or their political backgrounds.

“This was not a personal directive to anyone… this was not something that was drawn with anyone in mind, it’s just the way things came together,” Carrera explained.

Still, Republicans are upset.

Other lawmakers facing more competitive districts under Carrera’s plan are Democratic Reps. Sue Ryden, Aurora; Cherylin Peniston, Westminster; Millie Hamner, Dillon; Daniel Kagan, Denver; and Dave Young, Greeley. Republicans facing more competitive districts are Reps. Cindy Acree, Aurora; J. Paul Brown, Ignacio; and Don Beezley, Broomfield.

“It’s tantamount to giving an election to one of the candidates,” said Republican Reapportionment Commission member Witwer.

“The decision needs to be made at the ballot box by the voters, not by 11 members of this commission.”

Fellow Republican Commissioner Nicolais also argued that the eight-point advantage to Kerr would be unfair to incumbent Summers and voters.

But in what was perhaps the most heated exchange at Monday’s meeting, Chairman Carrera fired back at Nicolais, publicly chastising him for sending an e-mail to him stating that within 10 points could still be considered competitive.

“I have to tell you that I am actually shocked by what you just said, because you sent me a very well-worded e-mail giving me an analysis of the House map that we passed last time, and you specifically stated that you considered competitive districts within 10 points… Are you changing the facts?” asked Carrera.

“The facts did change when I did an analysis…” responded Nicolais.

Republicans also raised concerns over constitutional criteria attached to the reapportionment process, specifically a Colorado Supreme Court ruling during the reapportionment debate a decade ago, in which Justice Gregory Hobbs mandated that counties retain whole districts. Nicolais, an attorney, is convinced that 47 single county districts could be made and that the commission should propose maps that keep those counties whole.

“You are dead wrong…” he said, arguing that the Supreme Court may reject the proposals presented by the commission. “The other maps are unconstitutional. The only one that is constitutional is the one that I presented that had 47 single county districts.”

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he will defer to the commission on judgment related to the constitutionality of the maps, but he is not pleased with the overall outcome of their proposals.

“We could have done better and I think that we could have moved more toward the middle from the partisan Democrat map created 10 years ago,” McNulty told The Statesman. “It’s an improvement, but it doesn’t quite meet what is fair for all Coloradans.”

House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, is also concerned with the maps proposed by the commission, but he says the “compromise” is better than what Republicans had proposed.

“I thought the Democrats proposed a better map, obviously we didn’t like the maps the Republicans proposed, and clearly in the end, the unaffiliated member in the middle created a lot of competitive seats on both sides,” said Pace. “We didn’t get completely what we wanted, but neither did the other side, so I guess that’s how compromise works.”

The Republican proposal for House district boundaries would have:

• Added population to House District 59 by taking from Montezuma;

• Split Delta County three ways;

• Placed Grand County with Summit and Eagle counties along the Western Slope;

• Moved Manitou Springs out of House District 18;

• Drawn the majority of Longmont in House District 11, making it more Republican leaning;

• Split Fort Collins along a north-south border from College Avenue, making House District 53 more competitive and giving Republicans a fighting chance; and

• Kept Thornton together as a community of interest.

The Democratic proposal for House district boundaries would have:

• Added population to House District 59 by moving into Ouray and the eastern parts of San Miguel County into Telluride;

• Split Delta County three ways, but kept Gunnison whole;

• Drawn Grand County with Boulder, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, including parts of the Front Range;

• Kept Manitou Springs in HD 18; and

• Split Fort Collins along an east-west border from College Avenue, maintaining a more Democratic-leaning population.

The Republican proposal for Senate district lines would have:

• Moved Manitou Springs out of SD 11;

• Drawn two whole districts within Boulder County;

• Drawn three whole districts within Jefferson County, with the remainder drawn into Gilpin or Clear Creek counties;

• Drawn four whole districts within Arapahoe County; and

• Drawn three whole districts within Adams County.

The Democratic proposal for Senate district lines would have:

• Drawn two whole districts within Boulder County, but also drawn a district going outside of Boulder;

• Drawn two whole districts within Jefferson County, with a remainder drawn into Boulder County instead of Adams County;

• Drawn a remainder of Denver County into Arapahoe County and Cherry Hills Village;

• Drawn three whole districts within Arapahoe County, with a portion drawn into Denver County; and

• Drawn three whole districts within Adams County.

Despite all the questions and debate by the commission over the four months, the commission ended on amicable terms, with commission members applauding each other and Chairman Carrera for working to find balance. Commissioner Bob Loevy, a Republican and renowned political scientist, praised Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Chief Justice Michael Bender for making bipartisan appointments to the commission. Bender made the unaffiliated Carrera appointment.

“I am not privy in any way to whether they talked about this or how they went about it, but I do know that the end result was to create an evenly balanced commission with a neutral chairman, and I think that has had a tremendous impact both on how we have conducted ourselves and on our final result,” said Loevy.

Next Steps:

• The commission will file final plans with the Supreme Court by Oct. 7;

• Ten days after the plan is filed, the commission and anyone in support of the plan can file legal argument with the court;

• Twenty days after the plan is filed, opponents can file objections;

• The commission and proponents then have five days to submit a reply;

• The Supreme Court will then schedule oral arguments;

• There is no timeframe for when the court has to act;

• If the court rejects the plan, it then goes back to the commission for a new final plan;

• The new final plan would then go back to the court for approval;

• An approved final plan must be filed by Dec. 14.