Our view: A House (district) divided, Part II
Imagine Kremmling being represented in the Colorado Legislature by a lawmaker from suburban Boulder.
A new reality TV show? Entertaining, perhaps, but no: It’s the probable outcome of the latest proposal from the Colorado Reapportionment Commission.
As incongruous as this may seem, it nevertheless represents a marked improvement compared with the previous proposal, which would have paired Grand County with parts of Larimer County. Let this much be said as well: This Reapportionment Commission deserves credit for being diligent about transparency and involving the public during what is a complicated and thankless process steeped in partisan rancor.
Still, as the process has unfolded this year, Grand County has the almost unique distinction of being used to balance populations in Front Range and West Slope districts; thus, the proposed odd pairing with Boulder County bedfellows.
Another county being used as a pawn on this political chessboard is Garfield County. And this is where relatively impartial observers – in contrast to those who routinely drink from the Kool-Aid of partisan politics – can’t help but scratch their heads.
Garfield County has long been split between east and west to satisfy the “communities of interest” mandate in reapportionment, with the eastern part being paired with other tourism-based communities and the western portion with other resource extraction-based communities.
However, this year the commission decided to alter the split. Its latest proposal would move some of eastern Garfield into the western House District 63 along with what was previously the western portion of the House district of which Grand County currently is a part.
That isn’t sitting well with some residents of eastern Garfield County, who would greatly prefer to remain aligned as is (not unlike most Grand County residents). Yet it was necessitated primarily by the fact that the commission had to re-balance the population of the new District 63 because it had removed Grand County’s population from the existing district to a Front Range alignment.
The commission’s proposals are causing substantive issues both in Grand and Garfield counties – all because the commission moved Grand County away from its current alignment. So much for the dictum: First, do no harm.
While a western Boulder County/Grand County alignment is preferable to the Grand/Larimer County disaster, it is only marginally so. Anyone who doesn’t recognize the staggering political chasm and vastly different communities of interests in Colorado delineated by the Continental Divide isn’t paying attention.
This year’s reapportionment effort has also provoked debate about the merits of maintaining communities of interest versus creating politically competitive districts. The proposal that pairs Grand with Boulder would create a decidedly partisan district, with 41.25 percent Democrats, 24.65 percent Republicans and 33.13 percent unaffiliated voters.
Not only does such a district blithely ignore the prevailing political makeup of Grand County, it creates a sure seat on the Democratic side of the aisle, a seat that would almost certainly be occupied by a representative from Boulder County, given that nearly 50,000 of the approximately 79,000 residents in the district would be in Boulder County, with the remainder split among Grand, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties.
As undesirable as that is, an even bigger problem is this district would serve to perpetuate the political paradigm responsible for the destructive debt-ceiling showdown and countless other partisan shenanigans that led to the quagmire in which this country is mired. And, ironically, it does so in a state where unaffiliated voters substantially outnumber those from either party.
Antediluvian practices such as party caucuses and closed primaries – which is how Colorado still chooses candidates and establishes party platforms – bestow inordinate power upon the fringe Kool-Aid drinkers from both parties, ignoring the fundamentally centrist tendencies of most Colorado voters.
Taking steps to help alter this paradigm is a compelling argument for drawing politically competitive legislative and congressional districts, as well as for strenuously objecting to this latest reapportionment proposal.
The public can still present their views at the final Colorado Reapportionment Commission hearing in Denver at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, in the State Capitol Building, Old Supreme Court Chambers, 200 East Colfax Ave.
To be heard
Contact the Colorado Reapportionment Commission by email at email@example.com. Letters may be sent to the commission at 200 E. Colfax, Denver, CO 80203.
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