Panel eyes Grand-Larimer district | SkyHiNews.com

Panel eyes Grand-Larimer district

Tonya Bina
tbina@skyhidailynews.com
Grand County, CO Colorado

As Colorado’s state House districts are rearranged to fit the 2010 Census results, Grand and Jackson counties could be lumped with counties on the northern Front Range.

This is the latest outcome concerning Grand and Jackson counties in the process of reapportionment, which is taking place in Denver.

In decisions as late as June 20, the 2011 Colorado Reapportionment Commission voted to exclude Grand and Jackson counties from the existing district shared with the other West Slope counties of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and part of Garfield.

In doing so, Grand and Jackson now face being grouped with Larimer County or Boulder County, with or without Gilpin and Clear Creek counties.

Treatment of Grand and Jackson counties in this go-around of House reapportionments has made Grand County citizens uneasy.

“We’re pretty upset. A lot of people are angry,” said Al Olson of Grand Lake, registered representative agent for the High Country Conservatives, who testified at a hearing on behalf of Grand County during the reapportionment of the Colorado Senate districts.

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“We only hope they’ll make some sense out of it like they did the Senate district,” he said.

The committee ultimately kept Grand County grouped with other West Slope counties in final Senate district proposals.

Grand County commissioners have written a letter stating the county does not want to be grouped with Larimer County in a House district. Larimer County was home to 299,630 residents in the latest Census.

In a proposal being pushed by Reapportionment Commission member Steve Tool of Larimer County, a proposal expected be under committee review on Monday, July 11, would partition Larimer County into three House districts – two districts with Fort Collins and one including Loveland – with the remainder of that county’s population grouped in a fourth district that would include Grand and Jackson counties.

Since an ideal district size is 77,372 people (total population of state divided by 65 house districts), that would mean Grand’s and Jackson’s combined population of 16,237 people would join a Larimer population of 61,135 people in a newly formed House district.

“We would not have a representative from our county representing us,” said Grand County Democratic Party Chair Bob McVay of Hot Sulphur Springs. “Whoever is elected won’t have the same understanding of ranching, agricultural communities, nor the same knowledge of water issues we’re facing up here.”

McVay, along with Grand County Republican Party Chair Harry Kottcamp of Granby and citizen Andy Gold of Tabernash, testified at the June 20 hearing regarding House districts on behalf of Grand County.

“It was a united front,” McVay said. “I don’t care what initials are after your name. This is more important than politics. We don’t want Grand County on the Front Range – if that happens our voices will be lost.”

“We are very disappointed they are trying to put us with any Front Range county,” said Kottcamp. “We feel we are distinctly different and have our own interest and cultures, and in fact, the Front Range districts would have opposing interests.”

Due to the geographic barrier of the Continental Divide, a representative – likely from Larimer County or Boulder County – would have difficulty even visiting Grand County about seven months out of the year with Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park closed, members of both parties discussed during a meeting on the topic this week in Granby.

“It seems like a thinly veiled attempt to do a water snatch,” McVay said.

But Grand County Commissioner James Newberry downplayed the water-robbing theory at Wednesday’s meeting.

“At the state level, I don’t how much effect that would have,” he said. “I don’t know that a representative (from the Front Range) would make all that difference.”

“We have to, as a county and group of concerned citizens, party lines aside, we all have to be in this together,” said state Rep. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, the current House District 57 representative.

“It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, it’s about keeping the West Slope whole.”

Baumgardner said he plans to meet with citizens of Jackson County and other District 57 counties in coming weeks to rally them to join the cause. Lopping of Grand County from the district could have adverse effects for the entire district, he said, when it comes to garnering support for various West Slope interests.

Because the sitting representative in Larimer County is also a Republican, Baumgardner may be the only state legislator from the House reapportioned out of his seat if the proposal takes hold. Baumgardner has said he is not considering running against Larimer’s incumbent representative.

The map reflecting Grand and Jackson counties included among West Slope counties failed the committee’s vote on June 13. The sole West Slope resident on the committee, Gayle Berry of Grand Junction, voted in favor of keeping the West Slope district intact, along with Robert Loevy of Colorado Springs.

The other nine members of the committee rejected the map for reasons of not wanting to divide Garfield County, according to reapportionment staff chair Jeremiah Barry. “The problem the commission is facing is the constitution requires them to keep counties whole when possible,” he said.

Garfield County, which has a current population of 56,389, has been divided by House districts 57 and 61 for at least the past decade. At the 2011 reapportionment hearings, Garfield County representatives testified they did not mind having two different districts, since the eastern part of the county is better served with the likes of resort counties Pitkin and Gunnison, and the western part of the county fits better with the mineral interests of Rio Blanco.

In a tight 6-5 vote, the committee instead selected the map that kept Garfield County mostly whole in District 57, with just its southeastern corner inserted into District 61 of Pitkin, Gunnison and the eastern half of Delta. But this decision ejected Grand and Jackson counties, which still await districting.

During the next two Monday meetings, July 11 and July 18, the committee plans to review the final Eastern Slope regions that includes fast-developing counties Larimer, Weld and Boulder.

Discussions are bound to include Grand and Jackson counties, and Grand County party leaders are rallying citizens to join them in testifying at the hearings.

Because testimony is planned to be taken at 11 a.m. of the meeting that starts at 9 a.m., Barry said, “They may have already adopted plans for that area,” but, “people shouldn’t be disappointed if they hear the commissioners adopt a plan they don’t like. They should still stay and testify.”

The maps adopted are far from final, he said, calling them “preliminary, preliminary plans.”

From these plans, the commission will be charged with adopting a preliminary plan for the entire state, which may still be subject to public comment and change.

That plan is required to be presented throughout the state before the commission publishes it in September. In October, the plan is filed with the Colorado Supreme Court.

The goal is to have boundaries redrawn well before the April 2012 precinct caucuses .

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing the state’s electoral district boundaries to reflect population changes counted during the decennial census results. The Colorado Reapportionment Commission is responsible for redistricting Colorado’s 35 Senate and 65 House of Representative districts. The Reapportionment Commission consists of 11 members.

Pursuant to the Colorado Constitution, the Senate majority leader, House speaker, Senate minority leader, and House minority leader designate one person apiece to serve on the commission. The governor appointed three members to the commission, and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court appointed the final four members of the commission. The commission comprises five Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent.

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