A House (district) divided
July 8, 2011
Grand County faces the prospect of being placed in a Colorado House legislative district in which the vast majority of voters would be from Larimer County.
If that happens, be ready to kiss local representation and communities of interest good-bye.
For the record, let it be stipulated that the task of redrawing these districts based on population figures from the 2010 Census is a difficult task in this state. Colorado is politically eclectic, and most of its relatively small population is crammed into metropolitan areas. Thus, drawing districts that satisfy rural areas is no easy feat.
But let this be stipulated as well: The fact that representatives of both Grand County political parties have banded together to fight this proposal speaks volumes. It is not a partisan issue, but it does go to the heart of representative democracy.
It would also be difficult to formulate a district with more inherent conflict than a Grand-Larimer contraption.
First off, placing Grand County in a district with a far more populous Front Range county would de facto deprive Grand County of representation.
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How often is a state legislator from, say, Ault, going to drive through Denver and over Berthoud Pass to Kremmling? In the winter?
And why would he or she, when more than 60,000 out of the 77,000 residents of the district would live in Larimer County? And particularly when the interests of those constituents are vastly divergent from ours?
Consider water: We have it. They suck it from our lakes and rivers through a tunnel under the Continental Divide. We want to keep what’s left. They want more of it.
A legislator representing Grand County – and most areas of the Western Slope, for that matter – would be presumptively inclined to support basin of origin legislation in the Colorado Statehouse. These bills aim to require as a matter of state law that trans-basin diverters mitigate the damage they do when they permanently deprive the basin of origin of life-sustaining water.
Front Range legislators, on the other hand, are presumptively inclined to defeat these bills, because they think that’s in the best interests of their constituents. (A strong argument can be made against that assumption, but that’s grist for another mill.)
So, how is this likely to play out? Because of their overwhelming population advantage, Larimer County candidates are all but certain to win election to this seat. And, because they hail from the place where Grand County water is greening tens of thousands of lawns under the near-desert sun, they are likely to ignore the comparatively meager protests from this side of the hill in favor their Front Range constituency.
Grand and Larimer constituencies don’t just lack common interests; their interests are often diametrically opposed.
Nor is this dichotomy restricted to water. Similar scenarios are probable regarding a host of issues, such as transportation funding, to mention but one.
State law outlines specific criteria for redrawing these districts, one of which is contiguity and another of which is keeping counties intact when practical. Commission members offer the lame excuse that they rejected an earlier map essentially favoring the District 57 status quo with a slight alteration in Garfield County because it would split Garfield County. (Also telling: Only one Front Range commission member voted for that original map.)
News flash: Garfield is split now, its representatives don’t object to the split, AND IT WOULD STILL BE SPLIT in the map that would put Grand and Jackson counties with Larimer.
Kind of begs the question: What’s really behind the movement to remove Grand County from the Western Slope?
Larimer and Grand counties share a common border along the Continental Divide, but their “contiguity” is more a technicality than a reality: Not much in the way of political, social and economic commonality survives the trip over that mountainous wall.
This map shouldn’t survive, either.