Steamboat Springs Democratic proposals for congressional redistricting would join Routt and other Northwest Colorado counties with part of the Front Range, potentially splitting the Western Slope’s voice in Congress and opening the door to local representation from, for example, a Boulder resident.
“(U.S. Rep.) Jared Polis would have to add offices in the Western Slope,” Catherine Carson speculated Monday, referring to the Boulder Democrat who’s serving his second term.
Carson is chairperson of the Routt County Democratic Party. She and Steamboat Springs Republican Jack Taylor, retired from a long career in the state Legislature, spoke Monday about Democratic and Republican redistricting maps released last week.
Republican redistricting proposals would have few direct impacts on Routt County and have drawn Democratic criticism primarily for issues related to the Denver metro area. Democratic state lawmakers have alleged that Republican proposals would consolidate Democratic voters in two of the state’s seven congressional districts, thus improving Republican chances in the remaining five.
For Routt County residents, Democratic redistricting proposals would have a much more significant impact.
Democratic maps propose a new 2nd Congressional District that would include all of Northwest Colorado, including Routt County, but would end at the southern borders of Mesa, Delta, Gunnison and Chaffee counties, while stretching east to some parts of the Front Range.
The proposal would, starting in 2012, create representation that would mean the same representative serves Boulder and Grand Junction.
The proposal would create a new 3rd Congressional District that includes all of southern Colorado, from west to east.
Routt County is part of the 3rd Congressional District, which includes 29 counties that span all of western Colorado and much of southern Colorado, including Pueblo, but not the state’s southeastern corner.
“My understanding is that they’re trying to make all the districts competitive,” Carson said about Democratic redistricting proposals. “The challenge, of course, is that you also want to have geographical and economic similarities.”
Taylor said Democratic proposals lack those similarities.
“One of the things I heard is that they’re talking about splitting the West Slope, and that’s bad news — we have such a common interest on the West Slope,” Taylor said, citing water, agriculture and coal interests as examples.
Republican redistricting proposals would keep the 3rd Congressional District essentially in its current form.
Taylor said that given population centers, an election in the Democrats’ proposed 2nd Congressional District would give a distinct advantage to Front Range candidates.
“What chance would we have of getting somebody elected from out here as opposed to Boulder?” Taylor said.
Taylor added that Democrats are proposing districts that all reach metro areas.
“There could be representation from the metro area for basically all of Colorado … and that clearly is not good for us on the Western Slope, or for the state of Colorado,” Taylor said.
A committee of Colorado lawmakers, including five Democrats and five Republicans, is undertaking the arduous task of redrawing boundaries of the state’s congressional districts, to address changes revealed in the latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The process known as congressional redistricting occurs once a decade and, by its very nature, is beset with disagreements, debates and accusations of gerrymandering, or drawing district lines to give political advantage to one party or another.
After the 2000 census, reaching a redistricting agreement took years and ultimately was decided by a judge.
The committee formed for this year’s process could, theoretically, reach agreement on a map before the Legislature adjourns this spring. But Taylor said he’s heard rumors that a special session — as has happened for past redistricting efforts — could occur this summer.
“There’s still a lot of room for discussion and public opinion,” Carson said.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com