Drawing out the vote

Redistricting commission to visit Steamboat

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— Redrawing the boundaries of the state's legislative districts amounts to a mathematical puzzle that is potentially supercharged with partisan politics.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, whose districts encompass Routt County, are carefully watching the progress of the Colorado Reapportionment Commission as it works through the puzzle. Both state legislators stand to see their districts change. And both men could see the the boundaries of their districts expand geographically at the same time they lose the required 15,000 constituents.

The commission is charged with redrawing Colorado's legislative boundaries after each census to ensure each House district and each Senate district is within a certain percentage of each other in population. In addition to being nearly equal in population, the districts should be compact and preserve county and city boundaries as much as possible.

Currently, members of the commission, including its vice chairman, Jay Fetcher of Clark, are in the midst of visiting 22 communities statewide to gather public comment.

White is looking at two tentative maps that would carve a portion of Eagle County including the town of Vail out of his district. The second, an amendment to the current map being considered by the commission, and submitted by Fetcher, would greatly expand the geographic boundaries of White's district, while still trimming 15,000 constituents.

"I can live with either plan, but I'd prefer to keep Vail," White said.

House District 56 currently includes Jackson, Grand and Eagle counties, plus a small portion of eastern Garfield County.

One new plan would remove the eastern half of Eagle County and those portions of Garfield from the district.

A second plan would add large portions of Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, plus all of Moffat County to the new 57th District, which would encompass the old District 56, including Routt County.

White, a freshman legislator, said the amount of travel and the numbers of local governments he would have to coordinate with if he were he re-elected to serve the new District 57 is daunting.

However, he acknowledged the new district would tip the scales further in his favor.

"It would be a fairly strong Republican district," White said.

The current District 56 is about 35 percent Republican and 25 percent Democratic, with the balance being independent voters.

The new district would increase the Republican advantage to 42 Republican, 21 Democratic.

Senate Minority Leader John Andrews, R-Centennial, said he believes the commission, which is controlled 6-5 by Democrats, is deliberately attempting to concentrate Republicans in one district, like the 56th, to dilute their strength in other key districts.

"The objective in this game is 'I want to pack my opponents' votes into one district so they win by large margins,'" Andrews said. In effect, he said, the opposing party's votes are wasted in districts where they were already strong.

The current Senate District 8, represented by Taylor encompasses Routt, Jackson, Grand, Eagle, Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

The new plan would remove all of Eagle and part of Grand counties, adding a single precinct in Mesa County and all of Delta County to the district.

Taylor is concerned that such a large geographic district, in addition to requiring him to drive 500 miles round trip to visit his most far flung constituents, would not serve of those constituents well.

"Does it really help serve Delta County?" to have a state senator from as far away as Steamboat Springs, and how well would it serve Routt County to someday have a state senator from Delta County, Taylor asked.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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