Every 10 years, Colorado legislators must assemble the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is congressional redistricting.
Using information from the latest Census results, state lawmakers have to apportion the population evenly among the congressional districts in the state. In the process, lawmakers also must strive to meet a lengthy list of other objectives. They must try to avoid splitting counties and, worse still, cities into separate districts. In an ideal world, lawmakers also try to evenly balance districts in political representation to foster competitive elections. And there’s the goal of trying to keep intact communities of interest, those areas that share similarities in their economies and values.
With the exception of population, Democratic lawmakers working on a supposedly bipartisan redistricting committee have forced the puzzled pieces together all wrong. The situation is especially disconcerting in Western Colorado, where Democrats would lump parts of the Western Slope with parts of the Front Range in newly redrawn districts.
The plans would move Mesa and Delta counties into the same congressional district as Boulder County. The plans also would include the southern portion of the current Third Congressional District in Western Colorado with the southern portion of the Fourth District on the Eastern Plans and also throw in Pueblo and parts of El Paso County.
Needless to say, there aren’t a lot of folks in Western Colorado, especially Mesa County, who are happy about the prospect of sharing congressional representation with the folks from Boulder.
Never one to mince words, State Rep. Laura Bradford, a Republican from Collbran, called the plans “absurd.” “It would guarantee that our area of the state would be represented by a Boulder liberal would could care more about protecting prairie dogs than about protecting our water,” Bradford said.
Water rights and potential diversions top the list of longstanding differences on issues between the west and east sides of the Continental Divide in Colorado. But there are other differences, a lot of them involving the allocation of state resources between mostly urban areas and mostly rural areas.
Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, raises another troubling prospect with the Democrats’ redistricting plans: “It is entirely possible that all of Colorado congressional representatives could be elected from along the I-25 corridor.”
Democrats on the committee have defended their plans as avoiding splitting cities and counties into different districts and creating politically competitive districts.
While their redistricting plans aren’t perfect, Republicans have at least made an attempt to keep the current congressional districts mostly intact — including a single congressional district for Western Colorado.
Here’s hoping the pieces of the redistricting jigsaw puzzle ultimately fall into the right places — either in the Legislature or, failing that, in court.