Steamboat Springs Freshman State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, is bound to lose some constituents maybe up to 15,000 constituents when a bipartisan commission sits down early in June to begin redrawing the state's legislative districts.
White was elected in November to represent a four-plus county district that includes Routt County and Steamboat Springs.
District 56 also encompasses Jackson, Grand and Eagle counties, plus a small portion of eastern Garfield County.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years after the latest U.S. Census is conducted. The process assures that population shifts and growth within the state doesn't leave some districts over or under represented.
"The ideal size of a House District in Colorado is 66,200 constituents," White said. "I've got about 81,000. I'm 15,000 high."
White said he was more than a little surprised to find out that the opponent he defeated in the November election, Jay Fetcher of Clark, had been named vice chairman of the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, which will take on the task of revamping the state's 35 Senate and 65 House districts.
"My Democratic opponent is suddenly the representative for the entire Western Slope," White said. "I find that very curious. I truly don't think he's got anything up his sleeve. But why all of a sudden does he turn up as representative of the Western Slope?"
Fetcher, who is a rancher and a former school board president here, said he was almost as surprised as White at his selection. But he's looking forward to the challenge. He was the appointment of Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarky.
"Chief Justice Mullarky didn't just wake up one morning and say, 'Oh, Jay Fetcher, he'd be good,'" White observed.
But Fetcher said, as far as he knows, that's what happened.
"I talked with Mary Mullarky," Fetcher said. "She called out of the blue and asked if I'd be interested. They need someone from each congressional district and they need at least one from the Western Slope."
Fetcher said the only connection he can figure he has with Mullarky is a mutual acquaintance with Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Kourlis. Kourlis is originally from Craig, and, like Fetcher, a rancher.
The commission has 11 members, one appointed by the majority and minority leaders of both houses of the Legislature, plus three appointed by the governor and four appointed by the Supreme Court.
Fetcher and Chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez, who is Denver County clerk, are both Democrats, leaving that party with a 6-5 majority.
Fetcher and White agree on one thing: "The 56th has to change," Fetcher said. "It's 24 percent too big."
Fetcher said he will approach the work logically, and from a geographic and economic standpoint.
White said he already has a plan in mind for trimming the number of constituents in his district.
The Roaring Fork Valley communities of Carbondale, El Jebel and Basalt are part of his district, but they are far removed from the rest of the district. In fact, they are separated from the rest of Eagle County by the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Shifting them to the neighboring 57th district, currently represented by Republican Greg Rippy, would be the beginning of a solution, White said.
Rippy's district is currently 800 people under the ideal size. But he'd still have to give up a part of his district to make the plan work. Unavoidably, the change would impact state representatives and their districts on down the line.
What makes redistricting so complicated is that every change that is undertaken has ripples throughout other neighboring districts, White said.
State Senate districts must also be redrawn. However, they are typically made up of two House districts. The Senate district problems are usually taken care of by the redistricting of the House districts.
Fetcher said the commission will begin meeting weekly in early June. All of its members have been given laptop computers loaded with new software that lets them envision the domino effect of various redistricting plans.
"There is going to be a lot of politics involved," Fetcher predicted. "More politics than I anticipated."