GOP plurality narrowed

High Court ruling gives 3rd Congressional District 7,500 fewer

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Monday's Colorado Supreme Court ruling means that when voters pick a new congressman in the state's sprawling Third Congressional District next November, the Republican plurality could be 7,500 fewer than it might have been.

The Third District, which stretches from the New Mexico border in the south to the Wyoming border in the north, includes Routt County and Steamboat Springs. Incumbent Congressman Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, has announced he will not seek another term, heightening bipartisan interest in the race on Colorado's Western Slope.

This week, the court rejected a congressional redistricting map approved by the Legislature early this year to supersede one drafted by the courts in 2002. The courts originally stepped into the legislative redistricting scrap after the Legislature deadlocked on the matter.

When Republicans achieved an advantage in the Legislature after the 2002 election, they quickly passed a new map last spring. State Attorney General Ken Salazar sued the state over the issue.

Pending a possible appeal by the Legislature, reverting from the 2003 map to the 2002 map would mean registered Republicans will have an advantage of 13,000 in the Third District, down from 20,500 before the court ruling.

McInnis' spokesman Blair Jones said Tuesday that he believes it is premature to assume next fall's election boundaries will be drawn by the 2002 map approved by the court. He said the congressman won't issue an opinion until the status of an appeal becomes more clear. However, state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said that while he supports an appeal, it's almost inevitable that the election boundaries will be drawn by the 2002 version of the map.

"(Congressional) candidates need to be making some decisions," White said. "I don't see how there is time or opportunity to rely on any map other than the one the court has given us."

Republicans lining up to replace McInnis include state Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville; state Rep. Matt Smith, R-Grand Junction, state Rep. Gregg P. Rippey, R-Glenwood Springs; Department of Natural Resources Director Greg Walcher and Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino.

Chlouber's candidacy is directly impacted by Monday's court ruling; reverting to the 2002 map effectively takes his home in Lake County out of the Third District. He says he is willing to resign from the state Senate and move to preserve his candidacy.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa has announced his candidacy.

Jones said McInnis objects to the Supreme Court ruling because he believes it will result in the minority political party routinely seeking a remedy in court.

"His point is that it sets a bad precedent for the minority party to take (redistricting) to court," Jones said.

Routt County Democrat Jay Fetcher has insights into the process from his participation in 2000/2001 in reapportionment of the state's legislative districts. He would like to see congressional redistricting no longer be the sole responsibility of the Legislature.

Fetcher was one of four citizen members on the reapportionment committee assigned to balance the state's Senate and assembly districts by population. In addition to the four citizens, there were three members appointed by the governor, and four members of the Legislature.

"I tried to bring a West Slope perspective," Fetcher said. "My goal was to have equal representation."

He believes it is desirable to balance the numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans as much as possible, at least in some districts.

"Competitive districts, where they can be made without gerrymandering, are great," Fetcher said. "Without that, there's not much accountability (for elected officials).

Lopsided districts discourage challengers from taking on incumbents, Fetcher added.

White acknowledged that the outcome of the Colorado court case is being watched by the entire country.

"It's not just a Colorado issue," White said. "The federal court is going to have to weigh in on it and that means it's going all the way to the top."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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