Redistricting should keep the Western Slope whole

State Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction)

The General Assembly’s redistricting committee recently released proposed maps outlining Colorado’s new congressional boundaries. The maps offered by the Democrats and Republican members of the committee are as different as night and day.

The Republican maps start from the fact Colorado has the same number of congressional districts in 2011 as we did in 2001. So adjusting boundaries in a bipartisan manner to reflect population shifts isn’t that difficult. The maps presented by the Republicans were drawn in accordance with the basic principles intended to guide the committee in its deliberations: keeping communities of interest together, changing existing lines as little as possible and maintaining county integrity — basically getting the numbers where they need to be with as little disruption as possible.

The Democrats, on the other hand, submitted maps that represent a blatant gerrymandering effort, an insultingly obvious power grab and deliberate attempt to isolate rural voters from effective representation. The Democrat maps split up the Western Slope, putting Mesa County in the same district as Boulder and separating Mesa County from Montrose. The Democrats redrew the map so the population centers of each district are concentrated on the Interstate Highway 25 corridor. Under the Democrats’ plan, the congressional representative from every Colorado district could live within 10 miles of Denver International Airport.

It’s far beyond the bounds of Colorado common sense to conceive of a common economic or cultural interest shared by Grand Junction and Boulder, by Rifle and Breckenridge or Delta and Vail. Yet, the Democrat maps lump these hugely divergent communities into the same district solely for shallow political purposes. Democrats know as well as we do the economic drivers of these regions are dissimilar and often at odds with each other. Yet, they can’t seem to help themselves. Given an opportunity to use the system to their own political advantage, rather than the good of Colorado, they jump on it and ride it into the dirt.

It’s hard not to feel deceived by this. At the beginning of the legislative term, there was a great sense of bipartisanship, that both parties really wanted to do right by the people of Colorado and would, whenever possible, put aside ideological differences and work together.

As a result, many of us trusted the Democratic members of the redistricting committee to do the right thing, set aside political considerations and redraw the map in a way that accomplished what it needed to with as little disruption as possible and still maintain effective representation. We also thought they’d be willing to help save our state and taxpayers money by offering reasonable input to prevent the expense of a special session or prolonged court battle.

Unfortunately, they proved us wrong. They proved that politics comes before the citizens of Colorado. Most angering to me, they showed how little regard they have for the good people of the Western Slope. They heard you at the public hearings, pleading for them not to split up the Western Slope; jeopardize our water; or deny a voice to our farmers, ranchers and energy industry. They heard all of that, and they didn’t care.

What they did care about was the misplaced and misappropriated concept of “competitiveness” — a term not found in the state Constitution or any statute governing the redistricting process. This idea suggests that a district must be carved up to ensure that neither party has an advantage. In other words, they noticed that Republicans won the Third Congressional District this time, so therefore its too Republican and the map needs to be adjusted to include more Democrats. Funny how this concept doesn’t seem to apply to the Denver area.

Redistricting shouldn’t be about “competitiveness,” it should be about representation. Can anyone honestly believe that Boulder County and Mesa County can be effectively represented by the same person, with such different economies, priorities and values? Can anyone really imagine that a Boulder resident would want to be included with the ranchers, drillers and miners of Garfield, Mesa or Delta counties?

We’re all Coloradans. As such, we share some traits that make us uniquely Coloradan. But at the same time, neither Boulder nor Denver share the exact same brand as Mesa County. Jared Polis can’t ride for the brand of the Western Slope and Eastern Slope at the same time. Neither can Scott Tipton, and he should be expected to do so.

If this issue goes to court and one of the maps offered by the Democrats — or a compromise map that achieves the same purpose, is accepted — the result will be devastating for rural and Western Colorado. Not only will our water, energy production and other vital economic interests be threatened and our voice muzzled, but the trust that our residents hold in the system will be forever shaken.


State Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) represents Colorado State Senate District 7, which includes Mesa County and part of Garfield County.