Colorado lawmakers start over on redistricting

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – A 10-member committee assigned to redraw Colorado’s seven congressional districts has decided to start over with a blank map rather than try to hash out their differences over the 11 proposed maps that have been submitted.

Republican Rep. David Balmer and Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath agreed late Tuesday it would be too difficult to try to iron out differences on competing maps. They decided instead to start with a new map in an effort to find common ground.

“I suggested we start with a white map because I was concerned that we had become too polarized,” Balmer said.

They plan to meet again Wednesday and they still hope to meet a Thursday deadline to turn in a single map for legislative approval. If lawmakers cannot agree on a map before they adjourn in May, they may have to return for a special session that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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 new maps that provide help winning back some of those spots.

Heath, D-Boulder, offered six plans 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 U.S, 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.

Balmer, a Republican from Centennial and 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.

Democrats insisted the districts should be as competitive as possible, but Republicans said that was not a major issue in deciding where to draw the lines.

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.

Three districts will be growing geographically because their populations aren’t growing as fast as other areas. Those are the 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 past 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.