Colorado lawmakers gear up for redistricting battle |

Colorado lawmakers gear up for redistricting battle

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – The battle over redistricting next year got off to a heated start Thursday after Democrats supported a bill they claim is aimed at erasing a Republican “abuse of power” that put limits on judges and their ability to draw district maps.

Republicans said it would be a mistake for Democrats to strip out limits placed on the courts after a Denver District Court judge drew his own congressional district lines.

Judge John W. Coughlin created a district that wraps around the west, north and east sides of Denver like a distorted horseshoe with a 70-mile-long extension into the plains east of the city. At the time, it was evenly balanced among Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voters.

In 2003, Republicans regained power and changed the law, telling courts how to divide up districts.

Rep. Paul Weissmann, a Democrat from Louisville, told the House State Affairs Committee Thursday that lawmakers can’t tell judges how to rule. Mark Waller, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said it’s lawmakers’ job to make the rules and judges to interpret them.

“I think the problem we’re facing here is that the courts in the state of Colorado showed they are willing to get in the political process and play partisan politics,” said Waller, who opposed attempts to remove the limits.

Rep. Joe Miklosi, a Democrat from Denver, told the committee he worked on redistricting nearly a decade ago. He remembered Republican lawmakers shutting down the Legislature during the last day of the session to ram through their redistricting plan after a judge had decided the case. He said staffers and aides were reduced to tears as Republicans set aside the rules of debate and barred Democrats from speaking, ordering one dragged from the podium when he refused to stop debating.

The Republican bill passed in the Senate unanimously just before midnight after Democrats walked out.

“It was a horrible abuse of power,” Miklosi said.

Christine Watson, spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters, opposed the Democrats’ bill, saying the courts need some guidelines to evaluate whatever plan lawmakers craft.

The Republican rules that would be eliminated require judges to consider whether the new districts ensure equal representation, are compact, preserve shared interests among communities and don’t snake through precincts to give one party a political advantage.

El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams urged lawmakers to kill the latest attempt to rewrite the rules and take away limits on judges, saying they provide assurance that communities like his, with five military bases, won’t be split up and given different treatment by Congress.

“Taking this away could be devastating to the state economically and it’s bad public policy,” he told the committee.

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