Legislature Struggling for Redistricting Compromise

· May 6, 2011, 9:46 am

The state legislature is moving closer to a showdown over its dueling redistricting bills.  Yesterday a House committee considered the Republicans map, while members of the Senate weighed a map drawn by Democrats.  People who testified had complaints with both.

Sit through a few hours of redistricting hearings and you start wondering how Colorado has managed to stay together as a state at all.  Much of what witnesses came to say boiled down to, for the love of god, don’t put us with them.  Bent County doesn’t want to be with El Paso County.

BILL LONG: "For the Southeast counties to be a part of the 5th congressional district is an injustice. (:06)

Mountain counties don’t want to be with urban areas.

ANITA SHERMAN: "By not putting your mountain communities together in a strong district, that voice becomes slighted."

Towns with federal prisons want to be separate from towns with military bases.

MIKE SCHNOBRICK: "...And the majority of the orientation that they have is toward the Department of Defense rather than the federal bureau of prisons."

And apparently, no one likes Boulder, certainly not people in Douglas County.

DAVE KERBER: "I think God created Denver and Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties to keep those folks apart."

Dave Kerber, Mike Schnobrick, Anita Sherman, and Bill Long were among the dozens of local politicians and citizens who gave the committees a piece of their minds.  But making them all happy will be tough -- Colorado only has seven Congressional districts and legally they all have to hit the magic number.

DAVID BALMER: "The magic number is our state’s population divided by seven.  So the magic number is 718,457 people."

Republican representative David Balmer got his magic number by drawing a map that looks a lot like the current Congressional districts.  Republicans have stressed all along they want as many voters as possible to keep their current Representative.  Democrats say they want the most competitive districts possible.  Republican Senator Greg Brophy debated the virtues of competitiveness with former Democratic senator Ken Gordon, who came to testify.

BROPHY: "As an elected official, I don’t like being put in a position where I have to vote completely contrary to the interest of a significant percentage of my district.  How would you rank that desire for competitiveness versus an actual member of Congress who represents the wishes of a vast majority of people and not diametrically opposed wishes?"
GORDON: "You’re going to have people from across the political spectrum anyway and I would like to see the legislator have to listen and understand that they have to think through the conflict and understand that they have to come with a solution that favors as many people as possible."

Whatever they thought of the maps, witnesses all told the committee they want agreement soon.  That’s because If lawmakers don’t pass a map in the next few days the process will either go to a special session, or to court.  Many told lawmakers they would be abdicating their responsibility.  Richard Pabon gave the committee some fatherly instructions.  He is actually the father of one of the panel members, Dan Pabon, cosponsor on the Democratic map.

PABON: "Perhaps we should lock up the committee in a room, provide them with only bread and water, and not to leave the room until a solution is brought forth."

The parties say they are trying to compromise, and both sides have changed their original maps to incorporate some of the other’s ideas.  But they’re still pretty far apart.  There’s a lot of speculation around the Capitol about what kind of horsetrading and arm twisting is going on behind the scenes.  But in the hearings, they didn’t seem to get anywhere. 

Senator Brophy tried to start negotiations with Democratic sponsor Rollie Heath by suggesting a change to keep the eastern plains in one district.  But the effort got a cool reception.

HEATH: Senator Brophy, right now, this is the map we’re presenting.  We have looked at many adjustments, we have done the best we could.  I’m not willing to do anything with you at this moment."

As soon as Heath said that, Brophy grabbed his computer and slammed out of the committee room.  As the committee moved toward a vote, he sat steaming in the hallway.

BROPHY:  "I am just a little disappointed that there’s not willingness to work in front of people to draw a map."

For his part, Senator Heath says he hopes negotiations can still lead to a final compromise, but all the parties have to be at the table.  And during the hearing they weren’t.

HEATH: "Everybody has a different perspective.  We’ve been negotiating for like five months, so to do it there, in that setting wasn’t the proper place."

In the end, the Senate committee passed Heath’s map on a party line vote and the House Committee passed the Republican map on a party line vote.  At least in public, the parties remain as far apart as ever and they’re running out of time -- the legislature adjourns next Wednesday.

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