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Colorado lawmakers dispute redistricting maps

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Co-chairman Senator Rollie Heath, left, D-Boulder, and Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial study maps during a meeting of a joint legislative committee on redistricting at the Capitol in Denver on Friday, April 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
AP | AP

DENVER – Republicans and Democrats promised to work together this year to put together a congressional redistricting plan. But if the first round is any indication, it could be a long process.

Democrat Rollie Heath offered six plans Friday that would divide the state by transportation routes and community interests. It would put conservative Mesa County in the same district as Boulder, represented by liberal Rep. Jared Polis. Southern counties including Pueblo would have their own district, and the northeast would have a district. Other metro areas would be lumped in the middle.

Heath said it makes sense to take a radical new approach to congressional districts, rather than fine-tuning the districts that are now in place. His map is essentially built around major communities on Interstates 25 and 70.

“We have 750,000 new people, and we drew maps to keep as many districts competitive as possible,” he said.

For Polis, once considered in a safe district, one proposal makes his district 31 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican and 26 percent unaffiliated, which could allow a Republican to win. Polis did not return a phone call seeking reaction.

GOP Rep. David Balmer, co-chairman of a committee with Heath that’s drawing the maps, said voters should not have to wonder who represents them and offered five maps that mirror the current congressional district lines, with minor changes.

Rep. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, who served on a 10-member committee that toured the state to get public opinion, was fuming after he saw the six Democratic proposals. Most of the maps drawn by Democrats favor Front Range communities at the expense of rural areas, he said. The Democratic maps could have all seven members of Congress living within miles of each other on the Front Range, Coram said.

“Their maps are totally designed to silence the voice of rural Colorado,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman said Friday he was upset after Democrats drew up six maps that all take his home in Aurora out of the 6th Congressional District. Coffman could still run for re-election next year if he doesn’t live in the new district, but he said it would divide local communities he served for the past four years. Coffman won his first election with 60 percent of the vote and last November he won with 66 percent. He’s going for his third term next year.

“What they couldn’t do at the ballot box, they’re trying to do through redistricting,” Coffman said.

Under federal law, states must redraw congressional lines based on the census every 10 years to ensure equal representation. It matters to voters because their representatives will make important decisions on health care, the federal budget, Medicaid and other issues that have embroiled members of Congress. The committee will meet again Tuesday to begin debate on the maps.

A decade ago, it took seven years and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to get it done.

During the last election, Republicans picked up two seats in Colorado, giving them a 4-3 majority, and Democrats would like to win back some of those spots.

Three districts will be growing geographically because their populations aren’t growing as fast as other areas. Those are 1st District in Denver, the 3rd District on the Western Slope and the 7th District in the Denver suburbs.

Four districts are shrinking geographically. The fastest-growing district over the last decade was the 6th District, another suburban Denver district. Others were the 2nd District, which includes Boulder; the 4th District, stretching from Loveland to the Kansas border and south to New Mexico; and the 5th District around Colorado Springs.


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